Looking back over the past 12 months there has been much to celebrate in Derbyshire.
Markham Vale, our flagship regeneration site, continues to grow from strength to strength with more jobs being created and more businesses choosing Markham as their home.
Our Digital Derbyshire project to bring fibre broadband access to more than 95 per cent of the county’s homes and businesses is continuing at a pace and there were further benefits for local businesses through our project to build six new housing and residential developments for older people across the county.
All partners have been encouraged to use local contractors resulting in a £15 million trade boost for local firms to date.
Derbyshire was thrown into the international spotlight when the Tour de France swept over the border and vintage cycling event L’Eroica provided a welcome boost to tourism. And there were further milestones for our visitor economy – we agreed a vision and 10 year strategy to put the Elvaston Castle estate on a sustainable footing for the future and we worked with High Peak Borough Council to get extra cash from the Heritage Lottery with a view to converting Buxton Crescent into a five star spa and hotel.
We secured funding for a new library in Heanor which is currently being built and scheduled to open in March 2015.
And we agreed to invest £23m to replace street lights across the county with LED fittings to save cash in the long term on energy costs and maintenance.
We also agreed to spend an extra £23m over next three years to bring hundreds of miles of the county’s roads up to scratch.
Derbyshire’s services for children and young people were rated “good” by Ofsted and there was more good news as the number of Derbyshire young people not in education, employment or training fell by 5.7%.
We also helped more young people into employment by offering dozens more young people an apprenticeship with the county council.
We also decided to do the right thing by our lowest paid employees. We introduced the living wage to boost their pay packets to an acceptable level and we’re encouraging other Derbyshire employers to do the same.
It’s a sad fact that more people in Derbyshire are having to turn to food banks for help.
That’s why we’ve been supporting Derbyshire’s network of 22 food banks with funding, setting up donation points at 40 of our buildings and supporting appeals for people to volunteer and donate.
Unfortunately, there were other things we wished we didn’t have to do too as we began the mammoth task of cutting £157m from our budget by 2018.
I’m sorry to say there will be more of the same again this year as we continue to look for ways to meet the funding shortfall due to Government cuts and other pressures.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. We’re currently working on exciting plans to create a combined authority which will give Derby and Derbyshire a stronger voice to bring hundreds of millions of pounds to the county for the benefit of residents.
All ten councils in Derbyshire are coming together to fight Derbyshire’s corner and the people who know the area best will make sure resources are targeted where they are needed most.
Derbyshire has lost out on money in the past because it does not have a combined authority but I’m confident that by taking control of our future better times lie ahead with promise of greater devolution. That means decisions affecting Derbyshire will be made in Derbyshire, rather than in Whitehall where they know little about what’s needed here.
Looking ahead to May, we all have a role to play at the ballot box in deciding the way in which our country is run in the future – whatever our political beliefs. It was heartening to see such a high turnout in the Scottish referendum this year and I hope local people will use their democratic right in 2015 and make their vote count in the General Election.
Finally, may I take this opportunity to wish all your readers a happy new year and all the best for 2015.
councillor anne western, leader of derbyshire county council