Friday, 18 September 2009

News from Rushmoor's Cheif Exec

I am pleased to be able to confirm that the Council took an active part in the development of a Hampshire wide bid to the Government's Future Jobs Fund which is aimed at providing employment and training opportunities for young people aged up to 24 who have been unemployed for at least 9 - 12 months. In all, approximately 167 jobs are to be created across Hampshire, of which 24 will be based within Rushmoor, either within the council or our contractors DC Leisure and Veolia, and local schools.

The new jobs will be focussed on improving the local area and addressing local issues and the posts specifically within the council will be based in the Handyman Team,supporting local community events and activities and in our Customer Services. There are a total of eight jobs within Veolia and these will provide an additional resource to work on our cleansing and refuse services.

I am particularly pleased that we have achieved this success as creating opportunities for our young generation must be a key priority in responding to the current recession.

We have just received the latest unemployment figures for August which shows a small increase of just 15 which means that our overall unemployment rate remains the same at 3.3%. This is slightly more than the south-east average of 3.1% but below the national figure of 4.2%.

Office Accommodation
At its last meeting the Cabinet considered a paper from Andrew Colver on our future office requirements based around a feasibility study on our needs together with an assessment of opportunity to create additional space within the building to accommodate other income-generating users, particularly services provided by Hampshire County Council. Hampshire are currently carrying out a review of their own office needs and are trying to better relate their office accommodation for staff to the needs and locations of their service users. They have a particular problem here in the north east of the county and have expressed a genuine interest in basing more services within our office.

We already provide space for the Connexions service, highways sub-unit, YSP, and the Audit Commission which brings in substantial income. We are also keen to pursue this initiative as we gain real synergies from co-locating our services with county ones and have already seen benefits from the presence of Connexions. Andrew's review has also taken into account our current and future maintenance needs, mindful that the building has now been in use for nearly 30 years and has suffered from relatively minimal investment over that time. Indeed, if we did nothing else we would need to spend approximately £500K on essential maintenance and refurbishment.

The proposed changes and improvements will cost approximately £1.5M over two financial years, however, based on a financial appraisal which assumes that we use our own capital resources, the business case is positive and within a year of completion we would expect to make a surplus after taking into account the loss of interest from investing our capital in this way. The business case includes a risk assessment which takes into account the possibility of not achieving as much additional income as we would wish but the current indications are extremely encouraging and we are confident that we will achieve our income target.

In considering this potentially controversial and certainly major decision the Cabinet were keen to ensure appropriate scrutiny by the Corporate Services Panel and resolved to seek the Panel's views before implementing their decision which they took in principle at the meeting. The Corporate Services Panel subsequently considered the proposal and had a robust and thorough debate which recognised that investing in the Council's own facilities will generate considerable interest within the council and community and members were keen to give all members of Council an opportunity to be both briefed and to comment and they felt this could best be achieved by a Members' Seminar. This is now being arranged and it is likely to be within the first two weeks of October.

The proposals have been carefully worked through and will improve the quality and utilisation of our office accommodation and will provide further opportunities to enhance service standards particularly by increasing the availability of other public sector partners within the building

As you will be aware, we had some incredibly heavy rainfall on Tuesday which had not been forecast and was not prefaced by any serious weather or flood warnings from either the Met Office or the Environment Agency. The rain started at around 3 pm and continued until late in the evening. Ironically, this was the evening on which the Environment Panel met and our Duty Officer, James Duggin, was attending the Panel when he started to receive calls from residents concerned about potential flooding. A number of calls were received but the greatest concentration related to homes in Melrose Avenue and Cheyne Way - adjoining the Cove Brook. I am particularly grateful to James, Helen Lolley, Richard Apsey, Terry Genis and Dave Quirk who all played an active part together with our contractors Veolia in organising and delivering sandbags to the homes potentially affected.

In all around 200 sandbags were delivered but fortunately the rain eased off just in time to avoid any serious flooding. There is no doubt that the incident again caused deep concern to the Mayfield councillors and their residents and I believe they have some justification for concern over the extent to which the Environment Agency are striking the right balance between the use of the Cove Brook as a flood relief channel and also as a conservation area. The key issue being the levels of maintenance of the Brook and the extent to which the vegetation is maintained and cut back. It is our intention to have a further robust discussion with the Environment Agency on this point and we will certainly work closely with the ward councillors.

Princes Gardens Lunchtime Music Sessions
The recent music sessions in Princes Gardens over three lunchtimes proved extremely popular and gave visitors, shoppers and workers the opportunity to enjoy some of the finest acoustic artists in the South East. The event was organised as part of a wider project to encourage local people to use the gardens and we are considering the possibility of providing similar entertainment during the summer months next year

East Hampshire and Havant Shared Chief Executive
As you know, there has been a great deal of speculation in the local press about the benefits or otherwise of councils sharing their chief executives! Against this background I can now confirm that Sandy Hopkins has now been confirmed as the Chief Executive of East Hampshire and Havant. Sensibly both councils see this as a first step towards a more integrated management structure and will also be exploring further opportunities for shared services

Honorary Alderman
I am pleased to be able to let you know that Pat Devereux has been elected an Honorary Alderman of Hampshire. This is a great credit to Pat and reflects well on the borough as a whole.

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