Chief Executive's Blog
In my last blog I mentioned the significance for Moray of economic growth.
Elgin is forecast to see significant growth – particularly in housing – between 2016 and 2030, with an additional 2700 forecast to be built in that period.
Accordingly, the Council recently approved an Elgin Transport Strategy setting out the infrastructure and other requirements to cater for this growth and to complement the proposed dualling of the A96.
It is, of course, a bit of a cliché to say that our children are our future. However, this is very much case with the planned early years’ expansion which will see in Moray a doubling of the provision for 3 and 4-year-olds whose parents requested child care. Funded places must also be provided for vulnerable 2-year-olds. By the time you read this blog the Council’s plans which will involve recruiting up to 120 additional staff in this sector will have been submitted to the Scottish Government for approval.
It important that Moray continues to attract talent and I recently met Richard Lochhead MSP to discuss this very issue along with colleagues from HIE and Skills Development Scotland.
We mustn’t forget the core business of the Council of course and this is reflected in an annual report which was approved by the Council recently.
One of my tasks as Chief Executive is representing the Council and its interests and to this end, as the Honorary Secretary of the Chief Executive’s group SOLACE, I met with senior civil servants of the Scottish Government to discuss matters of mutual interest and concern and also attended the August round of COSLA Leaders Meetings and also a meeting of the Convention of Highlands and Islands Leaders.
Health and safety features prominently on my agenda. I chair a Health & Safety Committee with representatives drawn from across all Council services. Much progress is being made in this area but we must never be complacent and there is always more we can do. I am grateful for the support and guidance I receive at these meetings.
Moray continues to see significant investment and I was pleased to be present at a reception to celebrate the refurbishment of Balvenie House, Dufftown by William Grant & Son, the family business behind well-known brand names like Glenfiddich Whisky, Hendricks Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum. On a similar theme the Speyside Distilled event in Elgin Town Hall goes from strength to strength despite being in only its second year.
On the subject of celebrations, Moray’s very own the Most Reverend Mark Strange has been elected to the office of Primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I had the pleasure of attending a service in Inverness to celebrate this magnificent occasion. Some of you may remember Mark from his times in Moray as religious representative on the Council’s former Education Committee.
Many of you may not be familiar with a body known as the Crown Estate. However, as the owners of thousands of acres of land at Fochabers and in Glenlivet, the Estate has a substantial presence in Moray. The Estate is undergoing significant change as its management is being devolved to Scotland. The Council Leader and I recently met, as a matter of courtesy, the newly-appointed Chair of the Estate, Amanda Bryan, to discuss how we can work together in the future to ensure the wellbeing of those who live and work on the farms and other properties tenanted from the Estate.
The Moray Book Festival is now an established part of the calendar and no less a person than the Chief Executive of the National Library of Scotland opened the festival this year.
Inspired by Professor Irene McAra-McWilliam, the stand-alone Glasgow School of Art campus at Altyre, Forres goes from strength to strength. Ahead of this year’s winters classes, with 100 students anticipated, the campus currently hosts Masters students from the UK; EU; US; China; India and Japan.
I would also like to take this opportunity on behalf of myself and colleagues, Chief Superintendent Campbell Thomson and Susan Webb of NHS Grampian to thank all staff for their hard work since the inspection of Children’s Services last year. As many of you involved in Children’s Services may know, the Care Inspectorate came back last week to check on progress. They found examples of improvements in our processes and the ways we are working together across agencies.
Collectively known as the Moray Chief Officer’s Group for Children’s Services, Campbell, Susan and myself are very much aware of how much more we have yet to do. We knew from the outset that our aspirations would take time to deliver in full. Once we get the Care Inspectorate’s final report we will be taking some time to consider the findings and any recommendations the inspectors may make. As a group the chief officers are incredibly proud of what has been achieved together in a relatively short space of time.
Of course, we are all very familiar with the financial situation the Council is in and are only too aware of the need to reduce the Council’s budget. This is a real challenge. The Council is addressing this by preparing a new Corporate Plan. This plan can be viewed a bit like a business plan. It will set out the Council’s vision, values and priorities and provide the context for the challenges we will face.
Our last Corporate Plan ran from 2015-2017 and with new Councillors in place with views about what the future should hold for Moray Council, it is now time for the plan to be reviewed.
By looking at our money alongside the Corporate Plan we will be able to make sure we have the resources matched up with our priorities. So, the aim is to work towards a single plan that covers priorities, budget and resourcing.
The budget is set in February each year, which means proposals need to be nearing completion by this December.
Between now and December, senior officers will be working with new councillors to see how we can reduce our budget by as much as we can for the next financial year 201/19 and checking this to make sure it is consistent with the longer term council priorities councillors want to recommend.
The intention is then to work from January to May/June of next year on the longer term budget options and proposals. This will include considering, protecting and redirecting resources for the priorities in the Corporate Plan.
We know that many savings will require significant lead in time before they can be achieved and that there will be difficult choices to be made. It is planned to review progress in June 2018 to determine the detailed next steps.
So for all of us this means we will continue to face the prospect of significant change to our services and jobs for a number of years. Change will undoubtedly continue to be a feature of our working lives and I appreciate how difficult it is to live with the uncertainty that creates. As this unfolds, I will try to make sure that updates and information are made available, even if the answers are not yet clear. If you have any questions, please put these to your manager to feed back as, without the questions being asked, I don’t know what you don’t know and what information would be useful.
In my next blog I hope to bring you news of even more investment in Moray along with any updates on the budget.