Basildon Council has recently changed from a cabinet structure to a committee system. Gavin Callaghan, leader of the local Labour party, is now chair of the policy and resources committee – similar to being leader of the council. Here he shares he vision going forwards.

It is more than four months since I became Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee working alongside the leaders of other political parties at Basildon Council as part of a new administration that swept away 14 years of Conservative control.

To say it’s been busy would be an understatement – it’s been a whirlwind.

In my first few days, as I had meeting after meeting with officers at the council to get to know the issues and how to get things done, I learnt more about what the council does than in all of the previous five years of being a councillor.

And that made me think – if councillors don’t know the half of what the council is doing, why should we expect residents and taxpayers across the borough to know, or to be interested when we need you to be.

I decided then I had to make the council more open and transparent and more accountable to local people.

I have always thought the council should listen a lot more and respond to what people across the borough are telling us and not make decisions behind closed doors, or leave decisions to chief officers.

That’s why I backed the move to a committee system, to get more councillors involved and more decisions taken in open committees and why I have backed plans to webcast our committee meetings.

And it’s why one of the first things I did in the summer was to change the management structure in the council. We are now putting into place a structure and style of management that better fits the new political system, putting the emphasis on collaborative, smarter and more streamlined working to progress the business of the council.

And I wanted us to be much clearer about what the management team and the officers of the council would be tasked with delivering for the borough.

So, on Thursday 12 October, council will be asked to agree a new corporate plan. That might sound a bit dry but it is crucial in setting out a vision for transforming our borough and our promises to residents.

It makes it clear, through our strapline, ‘five towns, one borough’, we see our duty to making improvements across the whole of the borough, and not to favour any one part.

We must live up to the ideal that our borough’s five towns, as diverse and special as each undoubtedly is, are united by a common purpose and shared values, with no one left behind and everyone having a stake in our future – growth that is inclusive.

That won’t happen on its own. The council needs to act positively and we need to work with residents, businesses and partners. We must provide ladders of opportunity for each and every one of our residents. I have commissioned external experts to analyse why we have a thriving, growing economy on the one hand, and local people who feel they are not getting opportunities to develop their careers and build better lives on the other. Why are we the 5th most unequal city in the UK according to the Centre for Cities? We must get to the bottom of this and do something about it.

We are also establishing a Pathways to Success panel to find more effective ways in which Basildon Council and other public sector organisations, education providers and employers can work together to raise skill levels, ambition and opportunities.

We’ve proposed changes to the council tax support scheme that would see any working age household with a disabled person living in it automatically get the full 75 per cent support. We’ve made sure key workers in the borough – those we depend on for our public services in schools and the health service for example – will be supported through our house building programme. And we have taken action to clean up our forgotten estates by committing resources to create more Pride teams.

I know we have some real challenges ahead. Because of withdrawal of government funding we face a £9m shortfall in our budget by 2019/20. We have already identified more savings this year to make inroads into this, but we will need to change the way we do some things, become smarter about bringing in income and make some tough decisions about some services we currently support.

We’ll be asking you for your views on where we spend money, how we might raise more income and on the level we should set council tax in a consultation exercise later this month.

As I said, it’s been quite a four months. But I am proud of the progress we have made so far and the way in which we have set about changing the council and transforming the borough.

I am grateful for the hard work that the council’s officers are putting in to make this happen.

And I am pleased that despite our differences – some of them profound – the different political parties and other committee chairmen in the administration have worked together.

We have united behind a programme of more than 30 things, putting people before party to work in the interests of residents.

I truly believe the borough of Basildon is alive with opportunity and has the ingredients to be one of the most successful and desirable places in the South East.

I hope we can continue to pull together to secure that bright future for everyone who lives, works and learns here.

Councillor Gavin Callaghan

Chairman of Policy and

Resources Committee, Basildon Council