The meeting was started promptly by Chairman Roger Bancroft who announced six apologies for absence. The Chairman advised members that another 90th birthday was in the offing for namely Ken Roberts who received the best wishes from those assembled and who responded in a most courteous and pleasant manner.
The Forum was pleased to receive as today’s speaker Mr Wallace Sampson Chief Executive of Harrogate District Borough Council who offered to share some of his views on the challenging times faced by the Council but also the opportunities that were also available.The last five years since the financial recession took hold, and coincidentally at about the same time he took the reins of office as Chief Executive, had been tough for this District but not unique and a situation faced by all councils in the country. The big issue faced was the Public Sector Deficit and the ongoing austerity programme put in place by the Coalition Government. For Harrogate District Council this had seen an expenditure reduction of £4 million in the last four years and a further £1 million to be found over the next year. Whist a major challenge it had also offered the opportunities to focus savings on back office and administrative functions whilst minimizing the impact on front line services and he took rightly great pride in the fact that they had achieved the requisite savings in this way and with a reduction in the Council workforce of 15% (200) over the four years but with minimal redundancies. Progress had continued to be made by the Council notably in Waste Disposal both in terms of reduced costs but an ever improving recycling result..now up to 42%. Further savings were anticipated from the expected rationalization of Council office accommodation which is currently spread over five sites. Plans were currently being developed for submission to Central Government regarding the District’s Housing plan which were proving controversial but he stressed the need for this plan and also the importance of looking to the period beyond and what would be required. A master plan for Harrogate Town Centre was in place and shared initiatives with Metro (West Yorkshire), the local M.P. and Chamber of Commerce for rail electrification between Leeds, Harrogate and York were important but the biggest and most imminent opportunity was going to be the Tour De France in July and Harrogate’s involvment in the first two stages with a massive amount of interest which will bring possibly hundreds of thousands of visitors and around 22,000 journalists to report on the event. The impact for potential future visitors and income could be immense. On a more sober note Mr Sampson anticipated another five or six years of austerity measures which would continue to pose challenges to the Council. Some lively questions were thrown to the speaker at the end which he answered in an open and frank way much in the spirit of his overall talk.
The Vote of Thanks was given by Richard Brooks and there were 22 attendees.
NEIL RAMSHAW SECRETARY