What we did well in 2017 and what we need to do better
I began thinking about my annual state of Northampton address thinking I wouldn’t be able to find much to be positive about. After all, the Labour groups experience over the year has been one of unrelenting case-loads. Evictions, homelessness, overcrowding, debt, domestic violence, crime, fly-tipping and littering and parking, antisocial behaviour. Violent crime is up. Domestic violence - up. Figures for those experiencing loneliness – up! Human trafficking - up.
We know the figures for children living in poverty have gone from 10,000 in 2013 to 15,000 now. We know that for the first time in a decade, mortality rates are increasing; meaning life expectancy is falling for the most disadvantaged.
The growth in HIMOs has unbalanced our housing market taking family homes out of supply and creating unprecedented churn in our communities.
Our retail offer is in decline with more shops closing and our market yet to be revived.
As Labour Councillors we know more and more working households and families with children are using foodbanks.
The near collapse of the County is going to impact on our residents. And we will have to pick up the pieces
Life can be pretty grim out there.
But we have indeed got a good news story to tell as well. The Errol Flynn second cinema has been a resounding success- adding to our cultural offer. The Night Shelter with its army of volunteers has been a success. As well as meeting a need this strategy is building social capital.
Last year we continued to offer town wide events that create a sense of place. Events in the Guildhall have been thrilling. Whether it’s the job fair, or weddings or Xmas parties. Our staff do the most amazing job, are beginning to make a profit, and we applaud them.
Plans for Delapre Abbey, the Museum, the Vulcan works have often been frustrating but are there and going ahead. The move of the University to the Waterside looks as if it is going to complete in time. One Angel Square has brought more workers into town. We have the wonderful new St Crispin’s community Centre. The Enterprise Zone and our work with SEMLEP is contributing to growth.
I want to applaud NPH. Their strategy for working intensively to build and renovate on a patch by patch basis is having huge benefits. As well as leaving the housing offer better than it was before, they are leaving the outside environment better than before and building social capital in neighbourhoods. That cannot be underestimated.
I want to also applaud our wardens and housing officers. These are visible representatives of the Borough and the work they do has a huge impact.
So in 2018 what do we need to be doing?
People and Place
Can I say, for me, our number one priority is staffing? We have a problem with unfilled vacancies, staff retention and too many interim staff. We need to put in place Senior and Permanent members of staff with the skills we need. And who will deliver value for money.
We welcome the move back from 40 to 37 hours a week for staff.
We need staff who understand partnership working, how to build social capital, who will address our housing shortages, the imbalances in the housing market, enforcement and protections for our neighbourhoods.
We need a regeneration plan for the Eastern district.
We need to be more proactive around all those regeneration sites that are lying fallow across the town- Greyfriars, the Chron and Echo site, St Edmund's hospital. There are 9 altogether. We know where they are.
We need to urgently address the issue of air pollution. The latest figures produced by the Chronicle and Echo are horrific. Some sites-like the Drapery - are showing twice permitted levels.
We need to look at our infrastructure needs, - roads, homes, transport. We need more new schools, a new hospital. We need to fight for Unitary status.
We need creative solutions to regenerating the town centre and increasing our cultural offer.
We need to recognise the importance of creating a sense of place. Guildhall events, town wide events help us do that.
We need to develop a forward looking, anti –poverty, growth strategy and we need to get our town clean, safe and green.