Luton Borough Council is a complex multi-service organisation with an annual turnover of £500M and 8,500 employees. Major changes in direction come only slowly and require a determined and sustained effort by leading councillors and officers. I have often been frustrated at how long it takes to make things happen but the results of three years hard work since the Liberal Democrats took over at the Town Hall are beginning to show through.
Probably the most visible sign of this is how determined action by councillors and officers in the regeneration team is now attracting developers to invest in the town. The new St. George’s Square is giving these big players confidence that the Council is serious about the long overdue regeneration of the town centre. If we are to succeed in civilising the town centre, making it attractive and safe, it is essential we re-populate the area with high quality homes. The number of cranes that now dot the Luton skyline is proof that exciting things are happening.
Limited funds always constrain us but we have managed a huge shift of resources into caring for older residents and the annual budget for these services is now £10M more than in 2003. We have nearly finished reorganising the Youth Service so that it meets the needs of previously neglected parts of Luton providing positive things for our young people to do – and more importantly helping them organise their own activities. And there is to be much more community involvement in our reorganised Community Centres. Please do not believe the untrue scare stories being spread around, no community centre will close.
We have worked hard on improving the town’s environment and I hope Luton residents are also seeing the first signs of the results. Our streets are cleaner, hundreds of trees have been planted, dumped cars are no longer left to clutter our town for weeks, ugly fly-posting has dramatically reduced due to a sustained campaign against offenders. On top of this 31% of the waste the Council collects is now re-cycled against only 14% in 2003.
All of this has been achieved with Council Tax increases averaging only 4.7%, still bigger increases than we would like but a huge improvement on the average 9% in the three years before Liberal Democrats took over.
There is of course much more to do.
The changes in the town centre will need careful management to ensure Luton residents get the maximum benefit and we do not simply sell out to the big developers. Some of our parks have been improved but more needs to be done in others. Improvement in our schools must be maintained and speeded up. The number of older people needing help is growing and their needs are becoming more complex and expensive to deliver. We must make sure they receive the help they need to enjoy a good quality of life.
We have made a good start but I will not be satisfied until we can all see the improvements in our town that Luton residents deserve. There is much work to do and there are many challenges ahead.