Each July I present an annual ‘state of the district’ address to the full council, and in preparing this year’s address and looking back at the intervening 12 months I am incredibly proud to be able to point to a record of action that has supported our communities in their time of need.
For our businesses, for example, we were able to design a range of discretionary grant schemes alongside those mandated by government, getting £56 million into the bank accounts of local businesses.
For our residents we directly delivered hardship funding and Council Tax Support payments in addition to the earlier two-month Council Tax delay scheme we designed and delivered and which was taken up by over 3,000 households - the only council in Cambridgeshire and one of few in the country to offer such a scheme.
We supported community groups and food banks with funding to ensure that nobody in our district needed to worry about where their next meal would come from and maintained our own stock of food and supplies, delivering hundreds of food parcels.
In the circumstances it would have been easy to follow the example of many other councils and reduce or cease some services altogether. However, the direction my cabinet and I gave was to maintain services as far as possible as their continuation would be appreciated whilst many other aspects of life as we knew it changed for the worse around us. The best example of that is our waste and operations service which has continued uninterrupted, HDC being one of only 5% of all councils across the country to manage such an achievement.
Thinking back to last year, the potential impact of the pandemic on the council’s finances was significant. We had ceased charging in our car parks, leisure centres were mandated to close, commercial income was under pressure, Council Tax and business rates collection levels were uncertain and costs were going up.
The position at one stage was that we were losing well over a million pounds a month and were facing an £8 million gap in our budget. Due to the action we took though, as well as the unprecedented government support we received, we actually delivered a £60,000 underspend and, in recognition of the situation many residents are facing, also froze Council Tax this year.
In addition, we’ve delivered a range of new projects to support our communities, respond to emerging priorities, concerns and opportunities and make sure that Huntingdonshire is the thriving place we all want it to be. We’ve done all this while maintaining and improving our services, meeting the needs of residents and balancing the budget.
With that in mind, I will conclude with a quote from my first speech as leader in December 2019:
"I will never stop championing what a great place Huntingdonshire is and I want to see us continue to thrive. The council’s vision is ambitious but achievable. As a provider of vital services, we will strive for the best and will always be there for our most vulnerable residents."
Little did I know at the time just how relevant those words would soon become.
Cllr Ryan Fuller
Huntingdonshire District Council