"I’m sure like many of you, I will be glad to see the back of 2020, a year dominated by a global pandemic that has had unprecedented impact across the world.
As a new Conservative administration, only taking the reins in May 2019, we came into 2020 with such hope and ambition for the change Bolton and our borough so desperately needed.
In our first six months we delivered a record additional investment of £12million of road and pavement improvements, with every area across the borough benefiting within a larger programme that introduced fair funding for all across the borough; a £1.5million investment into cleaner and greener initiatives with a commitment to reduce omissions; and an introduction of stronger enforcement on fly tippers, litter louts and street beggars.
We set up our Towns Boards in the four district centres of Westhoughton, Horwich, Little Lever and Farnworth in charge of distributing an investment of up to £4million in their individual town centres, and kept our promise to having these chaired and run by locally elected councillors - regardless of party - from those areas with full involvement from local residents and businesses.
We brought an end to Labour’s crisis over numbers of available school places. After challenging conversations with the Department of Education, a new school opened in September, with more schools interested in locating in the borough, and record number of parents in the borough got their first or second choices.
We ended the Gateway Programme which saw Bolton under Labour take more asylum seekers than vast parts of the country put together.
We reviewed the whole way the Council gives out grants, taking the decision making out of the hands of politicians and into the CVS with applications assessed by a team of experts from the voluntary sector. No such decisions as ASONS will ever be taken under our administration!
And we continued with the ambitious programme of regeneration of Bolton Town centre that after years of decline and neglect, would be reinvented, while honouring and respecting our great heritage.
All these initiatives were continuing into 2020 along with many new ones until we, as a town, a country and indeed a civilisation, faced Coronavirus.
March saw, as we all know, us enter lockdown, life changed, and although we, as an administration, have still been determined to press ahead with many initiatives, decisions and much of council business has been dominated by the pandemic, and the inevitable financial impact, not only on us as a Council but on local businesses, confidence and the town’s economy.
There will be differing views out there on how Government has responded to the pandemic. Opinions are polarised across the entire world and governing parties in their own countries of all political persuasions have been castigated for their decisions.
I have not been afraid to speak out strongly against my own Government when I thought they had got it wrong, and when Bolton was being negatively and unfairly impacted.
Throughout the pandemic, I have based my decisions not on party political lines but what I thought was right for the residents of our borough. I have fought to gain regular contact with government ministers, and to put across a localised different view that they weren’t always hearing.
Now, although faced with a new highly transmissible variant, we have the hope of a vaccine. It is to be applauded that UK residents were the first to be vaccinated anywhere in the world. Government’s responsibility is now to maintain that impetus and, along with NHS England, produce an unparalleled efficient programme of immunisation, that delivers safety and assurances to the population.
Then and only then can we return to the normality we all crave and to spend time with friends and loved ones.
And then for us as a Council, back to concentrating full time on delivering those priorities for change.
Even during the pandemic, we have submitted £75million of bids to Government for Future High Streets and Towns Funding, and only last week heard the fantastic news of the first round that Farnworth has been awarded £13.3million, real money coming Farnworth’s way that some said would never happen.
We have undergone a huge piece of work that identifies the social gaps in our borough and underlying key issues behind them. For years, Labour threw millions of pounds on projects that sadly had little positive outcome. Deprivation in those areas remains the same.
Our 'Joint Strategic Needs Assessment' identifies those key areas so they can be targeted specifically not only through Council and Government initiatives but through grants to the voluntary sector through the Bolton Fund.
Our voluntary sector in Bolton flourishes and we as a Council are proud to be supporting it more than ever, with record investment, but now all outcomes on grants will be measured and must be showing and proven to be delivering for the residents targeted.
As we move into a new year, I also want to stress the administration’s commitment to the protection of green belt land across the borough.
Never let others, for political gain, question our commitment to this. It is Conservative Councillors who year after year have stood up and defended green belt land in our Planning Committee, and we will continue to do so.
We continue to adopt a ‘brown field sites first’ policy, and we have finally collated a document containing all council owned land - our 'Strategic Asset Management Plan'.
It is incredible to believe that one had not been done for nearly 10 years, no one knew what we owned and what we didn’t. We’ve changed that and with cross party support have developed a programme of how we deal with council owned land and buildings: some non-green belt for disposal for development to reinvest the money into council provision; some for community asset transfer to help community organisations and others for green initiatives.
We face a very challenging year in terms of the council’s finances. Savings had been deferred by the last administration to this year’s budget and coupled with the loss of income and revenue due to the pandemic, we are having to make savings to the Council budget of £37million.
This is not a position anyone wants to find themselves in, but we have produced an initial consultation document that we believe protects the vulnerable and those in genuine need and also those front line services that we believe everyone has a right to expect for the council tax they pay.
You can’t produce budget proposals of £37m of savings without there being some controversial subjects in there, and politics will inevitably be played by opposition parties, but we have been very open and transparent and said to Opposition parties who may disagree with certain proposals, come up with alternatives and we will gladly consider them.
We will continue to press ahead with the regeneration of Bolton Town Centre. This is not without additional challenge due to the finances of a COVID world, but significant progress has been made and 2021, as long as we can see off this pandemic, should see the arrival of cranes on the skyline.
Our £25m Towns Fund bid, among other initiatives, sees the development of the Wellsprings building, opposite the Town Hall, into an innovation Hub of high tech and digital micro and start up businesses.
Bolton must begin to aspire to deliver quality well paid innovative jobs for the future, working in partnership with our schools and University and other business partners in the town.
My job will be to continue to knock on the doors of the people who can join us to make that happen, to bring new businesses to the town, new training, new apprenticeships and new economic prosperity that can cascade to all.
So we have great ambition for our town. Bolton deserves to do better and we are committed to delivering the change needed.
Change that delivers targeted interventions on deprivation, worklessness and a benefit-dependent culture; delivers quality front line services with value for money; and invests in training and skills to bring quality jobs and economic prosperity to the town. And all this achieved in an open transparent way of doing business that was so sadly previously lacking.
I want to finally finish this New Year message by thanking a cohort of people who have got us through this most difficult of years.
Our front line NHS staff, our social care staff, our teachers and our front line council staff, from our bin men to those administering grants to businesses closed during lockdown, you have been truly phenomenal, and on behalf of the Council, I thank you. We owe you a great debt of gratitude. You have got us through this awful chapter in our history.
Let us now all pull together in hope and fortitude. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Let us now move on to achieve great things for our borough together.
May I wish you and those close to you 'A Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year'."
- Cllr David Greenhalgh, Leader of Bolton Council