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Leader's Blog February 2018

I was very sad to learn of the passing of Cllr Sheila Woodyatt who had been unwell for some time. Sheila dedicated many years of her life to public service and was a great representative for the people of Lymm.

She was a force of nature and will be sadly missed by family, friends and colleagues and very much missed in the council chamber as well.

We are currently finalising the budget process for the next financial year amid yet more cuts from central government. We have one of the lowest rates of council tax in the north west and the income from council tax payments don’t even cover the budget necessary to carry out our adult social care and child services. We continue to find innovative ways to mitigate the cuts but it is inevitable that there will be a rise in council tax. As has recently been shown by events in Northamptonshire – austerity is cutting very deep and we are doing everything we can to protect vital services.

Warrington’s economy has again been praised as among the best in the north in an annual report of the Centre for Cities. The annual healthcheck on the 63 biggest cities in the UK – Warrington is included due to the size of its population of 207,000 - featured the borough in three lists in recognition of our success in creating jobs and prosperity. Warrington ranks 5th out of the 63 cities when it comes to the high-skill private sector occupations that are likely to grow up to 2030. The Centre for Cities annual statistics is a useful, independent, barometer of economic performance for our major urban areas and once again it is good to see Warrington performing so well.

It was heartening to hear from Metro Mayors for Merseyside and Greater Manchester that they look to Warrington for inspiration. Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham were at the launch of the Warrington Business Awards launch and both spoke warmly of the work done by Warrington Borough Council. Steve Rotherham said Merseyside could “learn a lot from Warrington”.

A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes at Transport for the North as we published our strategy. The North is an attractive, diverse region and home to around 16 million people. We have vibrant communities, buzzing cities, five stunning National Parks, an abundance of talent and a wealth of high-performing businesses. However, from an economic perspective the region is underachieving. The economic value per person in the North is 25% below England’s average, and our income per person is £7500 less. The ambitious new plans from Transport for the North include a new fast route from Liverpool to Manchester Airport which will stop in Warrington.

Talking of rail travel, I was delighted to attend the sod-cutting for the new Warrington West station. This is nearly the culmination of many years of hard work by officers and members to try to improve the transport links for residents and businesses in the west of the borough. The new station will be staffed and have easy access for cyclists and pedestrians it will also have a large, secure car park and good interchange for buses and taxis. There will be one semi-fast train and two stopping trains per hour, linking west Warrington directly with Liverpool, Warrington Town Centre, Birchwood and Manchester. The council is still committed to keeping Sankey for Penketh station open after Warrington West becomes operational in 2019 and we will continue to lobby the rail industry for a better level of service.

On a personal note I was proud to be nominated by the Local Government Association on to the board of trustees of the London Marathon Trust. It’s a great honour to be asked to help such a worthwhile charity. The London Marathon Charitable Trust provides grants to inspire people to lead a more active lifestyle and increase the number of people regularly taking part in sports and physical activities.

I was also happy to attend the Connecting Cheshire Switch-on event at Rushton Close, Burtonwood. This now means that everyone in Burtonwood now has superfast broadband which is fantastic for residents and a real boost to local businesses.