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Worcester should be a city of ambition, says Gregson
A NEW vision for Worcester has been outlined by the council’s leader as he called upon the city to become a place of “great ambition”.
Councillor Adrian Gregson has pledged to raise people’s aspirations by revealing a series of key measures.
His blueprint, revealed on the day he celebrates his first 100 days in office today, includes: - A focus on young people’s skills, including closer links with the college and university and new talks with employers over extending apprenticeships.
- Fresh dialogue with the county council over finally resolving some of Worcester’s traffic congestion problems.
- All council property is under review to see if there is potential to rent space or sell it to raise cash.
- He believes Worcester can work its way back to full health by encouraging more regeneration, saying “the door is open” for developers to invest.
- A document called the city centre masterplan, aimed to encourage new shops, homes and businesses, will be relaunched within months.
- At the moment cuts of £1.2 million need to be made by 2015 due to dwindling Government funding, but he would not be shocked if that doubles.
- Council tax is likely to rise next year and staff have already been briefed that more job losses could on the way to balance the books.
Coun Gregson says the first four months in the role have been “humbling”, and that he’s been overwhelmed with support.
“It’s been interesting, exciting and humbling – the role is a much higher profile one than I thought it would be and I’m very aware of the level of responsibility it carries,” he said.
“There is a real opportunity for Worcester to become a place of great ambition and great opportunity. Worcester is a wonderful city but it’s not so good if you haven’t got a job, or can’t find a home because you can’t afford private sector rents.
“That’s why we plan to focus on affordable homes and why tackling congestion is so important, because if we can get the city moving, that’s good for business.”
He also says while he will wait until the autumn before coming to a firm view on council tax, he sees “very little reason” why a rise won’t happen after three years of freezes.
A rise of just under two per cent would cost the average band D household £3.23 a year – 26p per month – because the city council is only responsible for 11 per cent of the bill.
Talks are now kicking off over all the main priorities so the Labour administration can bring forward firm policies.
He said: “If developers want to come to us and invest, we will do everything we can to point them in the right direction over a planning application, without compromising our position.
“The door is open for discussions.”
The new cabinet, which contains Lib Dem group leader Coun Liz Smith, took control from the Conservatives following a shock coup.
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The new administration says apprenticeships will be a key focus – which could include lobbying employers to team up to share the costs and responsibility for taking on a young person.
The idea is to allow apprentices to spend time in small and large organisations.
Back in 2011 the old Tory administration invested £30,000 into recruiting and placing apprentices and interns with small and medium-sized companies.
The deal, which offered £1,000 cash to employers to take someone on, will be looked at again.
Talks will take place with the college of technology, university and county council over greater city involvement in helping those who leave find employment.
The masterplan, drafted in 2011, is a little-known document which aims to entice developers to invest in the city.
It lists thriving Sunday markets, better promotion of Worcester’s history and improving retail in the High Street as key aims for the future.
But there has long been concerns the plan lacks detail and isn’t being used to encourage investors new to Worcester to submit a planning application.
The plan will be re-launched in about six months and become the key blueprint for the outside world about where to invest.
This time around, they aim to drum up as much publicity about it as possible.
Tackling congestion – and a general perception Worcester has it worse than other areas – will be a major focus.
Part of a review into it will include parking charges, which were slashed as low as 40p for half an hour by the Tory leadership.
It will also include talks with the county council over how to increase cycling, improve bus routes and what roads investment is needed, beyond the old problem of the A4440 Southern Link Road.
A new consortium has also been established between councillors and business leaders to get their input on what the priorities should be.
It includes Councillor Adrian Hardman, the county council leader, given the fact his authority has ultimate responsibility over travel.
CITY COUNCIL BUILDINGS
A review has started about the various buildings the city council owns, to see what scope there is for selling pieces off or making better use of it.
The new leadership believes there is potential for outside organisations to take up some space given the jobs cuts in recent years.
That could involve closer working with West Mercia Police, which is currently looking to make changes to property of its own, and the NHS, but will not be confined purely to the public sector.
More details are expected to emerge over the coming months about any options the council could pursue.
Any deals with firms could give the council a timely income stream.
Finance chiefs estimate £1.2 million needs to be shaved off spending by 2015 due to Government funding woes – but there are fears it could go higher.
Coun Gregson says he would “not be shocked” if the end figure doubles, given the soundbites coming out of the Coalition on public spending.
All staff have been briefed on the situation, and have been told there is no guarantee jobs will be safe in the event of reduced central funding.
Roadshows have been taken place in recent weeks asking the public for their views on where spending should fall, and the feedback will form a central plank of next year’s budget.
Coun Gregson has also taken the step of asking all staff for their ideas on how to save cash.