Last week was the first meeting of Wetherby Town Council for this year.
We meet on the second Tuesday of every month except in December.
Our current location is the Methodist Church on Bank Street as the council chamber above the One Stop Centre is not fully accessible.
I hope that we’ll be able to rectify this at some point although it requires a significant amount of money spending on it to bring it back into use.
In the meantime, the Methodist Church is an excellent venue and they couldn’t do any more to help and support us.
There’s an opportunity for members of the public to come and raise issues with the council at the start of every meeting, this was one of the few occasions that no one did.
Chairing the council meetings is the main function in my role as Town Mayor.
I’m quite a strict chair these days as in my experience any meeting that lasts longer than an hour and a half ceases to be effective. I haven’t presided over one that’s overrun yet!
Chairing and speaking in public are not things that have come naturally to me.
I think I’ve got much better at it over the years and my confidence has certainly grown but it might surprise some of you to learn that I was painfully shy well into my twenties.
The only time I ever contributed in class at school was when I was specifically asked to do so by the teacher.
I used to sit and pray that I wouldn’t be asked, terrified that no words would come out and that if they did they’d be in the wrong order or that I’d say something stupid.
I even used to get nervous waiting for my name to be called on the register. It may seem silly but the memories are still vivid even today.
I still get very nervous now, the difference is that I’ve learned a variety of ways overcome this.
I don’t think my school teachers ever saw the best of me and I left at the earliest opportunity.
If you’d told them or me when I was 16 that 20 years on I’d be doing what I do today, they’d have laughed out loud and I’d have turned purple and run a mile!
The main item of business in our January meeting is setting our budget for the year.
A couple of years ago we changed the way we budget. We set up a special budget committee which comprises three or four members.
We start the process each autumn when we get together and go through the budget line by line, challenging every item of spend to ensure that we still need to spend that money and if we’re getting the best possible value for money.
In the grand scheme of things, the amount we spend is modest at just over £266,000 a year but I can assure you that we are fiercely protective of every penny of your money.
By taking the approach we do, I am pleased to say that despite some extremely challenging circumstances, we were able to freeze our budget for the third successive year.
We are not cutting any front line services and we will continue to support every voluntary and community group to at least the level that we currently do.
In fact, we are actually able to do more to help the community this year.
We will be doing more for young people through our new youth council, we will be doing more to promote businesses through our new Welcome to Wetherby Group and we have put money aside to deliver a neighbourhood plan which we hope will protect and enhance our whole community for the long term.
We’ve achieved efficiencies by tightening our back office functions, trying to work more efficiently and driving a hard bargain with our suppliers.
I only wish the City Council would take the same approach.
Unfortunately, they seem determined to do the opposite as they continue to waste vast sums of your money while cutting back on vital services.
My colleagues and I will be strongly arguing that there is a better and fairer way and while Wetherby may have a tiny fraction of a budget in comparison to Leeds, I will be urging them to learn from the way we manage and set our budgets.
Anyone who works in the public sector will be familiar with trying to make sure they spend their entire budget and frantically stocking up on toner and paper as the year end approaches to ensure they get the same amount next year. In Wetherby, our fantastic staff take the opposite approach and regularly proudly report new savings and efficiencies they’ve found.
We also continued our work on the neighbourhood plan this week as we began collating all the comments we received at our launch event.
I’ve also written to all those who expressed an interest in being part of our project team inviting them to a meeting early next month where we’ll outline the results of our consultation so far and set out the next steps and the different ways that people can get involved.
If you couldn’t make the first event but would like to be involved please email me – firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call the Town Hall on 01937 583584.
This week, with my Ward Councillor hat on I’ll be attending the first meeting of the year of Leeds City Council.
You’ll recall my 90-minute meeting rule from earlier - the Leeds meeting is scheduled to last six hours.