The leader of Herefordshire Council, Councillor Tony Johnson has invited the leaders of the It’s Our County (IOC) and Independent groups to join the Conservatives in finding solutions to the very significant financial challenges facing the council and the county. Councillor Johnson issued the following statement this morning.
“The Conservative group on Herefordshire Council has a single objective; to do all we can to make Herefordshire the best it can be.
We want Herefordshire to be the best place to live, work, shop, invest, learn and relax. We are the custodians of Herefordshire’s rich history, beautiful landscapes and the welfare of its people.
Since I became leader, I have sought to ensure that all of the council’s 58 members have been fully briefed about the unprecedented financial crisis that Herefordshire faces and the extremely difficult decisions that have to be taken to address the problems.
Our main problem, the huge cuts in our budget imposed on us by a government that is sorting out the national economic mess inherited from the last Labour government, is compounded by the fact that we have an aging population in one of England’s most rural counties.
As populations age their needs increase. In a very rural environment meeting those needs costs far more than in an urban area. Similarly, our young people’s needs must be met and they too cost more because of our rural situation.
This Conservative administration has worked hard to address these and other problems and have tried to explain to residents the challenges we face.
Some accuse us of failing to hear their concerns.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. We have heard many different points of view and all seek to preserve ‘their’ part of the budget without offering viable solutions to the whole.
Last week, the people of Pontrilas ward made it abundantly clear that we have not articulated the scale of Herefordshire’s problems sufficiently.
We heard you loud and clear.
Despite the loss we suffered last week, the Conservatives remain by far the largest group on the council with twice the number seats of our nearest rivals. We were chosen by the majority of Herefordians to run their council and to implement our plans to make Herefordshire the best it can be.
But even so, I am offering the main opposition groups on Herefordshire Council a unique opportunity to play a full part in dealing with the problems the council faces.
I am giving the leaders of the two main opposition groups the opportunity to join the administration and to work with us to achieve the goal that I believe we all share; making Herefordshire the best it can be.
This offer is the logical extension of the efforts I have made since my election as leader to involve all groups fully in the council’s affairs.
If they accept my invitation, they will continue to have access to every piece of information that informs our decisions and to influence them. They will be able to propose alternative solutions that we can then discuss frankly and openly so that we can arrive at an agreed set of actions that will help Herefordshire weather the current storm.
My invitation is made in the interests of Herefordshire and for no other reason. If opposition groups have viable solutions then it would be wrong if they are not implemented as soon as possible.
I believe that the people of Herefordshire expect their councillors to work together to address the problems we face and I am more than prepared to do so in the best interests of Herefordshire.
Should the opposition refuse this genuine offer, the current Conservative group will continue to implement the policies necessary to balance the budget, to focus on the needs of the vulnerable elderly and young people and to invest for the economy, housing and jobs.
But refusal would show that the opposition groups have no viable solutions to offer the people of Herefordshire. It will demonstrate an unwillingness to unite in the face of an unprecedented financial situation and would, I am sure, be noted by all Herefordians.
I believe that it is right to make this offer now so that all residents know that nothing is being excluded as we seek solutions.
I am setting aside party advantage for the good of Herefordshire and I sincerely hope that the leaders of the other groups will do the same. Co-operation across the groups can only benefit us all.”