Government minister No 1 visits North Somerset
By Prue_Reid | Friday, September 28, 2012, 17:02
Two top coalition Government ministers paid flying visits to North Somerset this week.
In a week when the town hall opens for show...
...Conservative MP Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, is given tour of Castlewood by North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashton, a Portishead councillor
Visting Clevedon was Conservative MP Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government while his political ally Lib Dem David Heath, the Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, popped into Congresbury to view sea defences.
Mr Pickles was given a whistlestop tour of Castlewood the council's new headquarters in the north of the district.
North Somerset Council has to find £86.3 million of savings by 2018 from its £400 plus annual budget.
So it paid £9.7million to renovate the old Weston town hall and bought Clevedon for knockdown price £12.6m in 2010 and spent more than £3 million in renovations.
By doing this it is able to close approximately 16 other council buildings throughout the district and house its hundreds of staff at two locations.
The council employees 1,700 people which does not including school staff or contract staff.
The Castlewood building now holds 1,150 people whereas without the refit there was only room for 750 and at the town hall the refurb has upped the capacity by 350 to 950.
Mr Pickles visit was part of a whistle-stop tour of the region.
He was greeted by the council leader Nigel Ashton and other members of the executive.
Mr Ashton who is a Portishead councillor said he was pleased Mr Pickles had been able to schedule the visit into his busy diary.
He sadi: "We are facing unprecedented challenges as far as our budget is concerned and here in North Somerset we face a huge challenge with one of the fastest-growing elderly populations in the country,
"While we lobby ministers and ask our MPs to bring pressure to bear, it is always good to take the opportunity to put our concerns direct to Government on home ground.
"Mr Pickles listened carefully to what we had to say about the challenges we face and how we continue to provide services which people in North Somerset need.
"We were able to demonstrate how we are delivering some services in a different way, rather than cutting them.
"And, of course, the close working relationship we have with partner agencies, such as the NHS, is demonstrated here at Castlewood as we all work in the same space.
"I'm sure that more joint working and closer ties between agencies will be a recurring theme and, once again, we are somewhat ahead of the game with the steps we have taken in this area so far.
"Measures to help reduce the funding gap could include limited council tax increases, the new homes bonus, business rate changes, further pay freezes and reduced pension costs.
"But the harsh reality is that this will not close the gap - by 2018 our budget will effectively be half what it was in 2010-11 and inevitably services will have to be cut.
"We put these issues strongly to Mr Pickles and I will continue to fight for fairer funding for North Somerset to ensure our residents get the best deal possible."