Uttlesford District Council leader defends corporate plan amid claims it lacks detail

John Lodge, R4U chairman. Picture: R4U

John Lodge, R4U chairman. Picture: R4U - Credit: Archant

The leader of Uttlesford District Council (UDC), Councillor John Lodge was quizzed over his administration’s draft corporate plan, amid accusations that the document consisted of “motherhood and apple pie statements” but was light on detail.

A draft version of the corporate plan, which sets out the council's vision and priorities for the next four years, was presented at a scrutiny committee meeting on November 5, for councillors' feedback.

Four priorities were proposed in the plan: putting residents first, being an 'active place-maker' for Uttlesford's towns and villages, being a progressive custodian of the rural environment, and championing the district.

The plan was criticised for an apparent lack of measurement targets and strategy, but Cllr Lodge, leader of Residents for Uttlesford, insisted the draft was not the corporate plan "in its entirety" and promised a document "much better" than the council has seen before.

Committee chairman, Councillor Neil Gregory said: "I saw an earlier draft of this which was rather more detailed and I think like Councillor [Christian] Criscione I find this draft a little light and on the face of it motherhood and apple pie statements of warm gold deeds."

Cllr Criscione, a Conservative, said: "I wonder if you can talk me through how you intend to measure your success with elements in this corporate plan? If I go to my board of directors and I say 'here I have presented you with a corporate plan', they would want to know how we can measure and how we can assess the performance at the end of it."

In response Cllr Lodge said: "We will not be looking to be a tax and spend administration, we will be looking to be an invest and spend administration so it's very much our intention to make the money available to implement our programme."

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A report prepared for the meeting said the draft corporate plan "does not propose any measurements of success at this time and it is not proposed to include them for 2020/21".

The report explained that once a review of business rates and the withdrawal of the new homes bonus had taken place, as well as the fair funding review, measures would be defined to "fit in with the resources available".

Councillor Geoffrey Sell also had reservations about the plan. He said: "I look at South Cambridgeshire's corporate plan...their corporate plan has against each thing what success will look like and how will we measure this. I just think this is very much a work in progress. To me there are loads of fine words which I totally agree with but the danger is that little gets done because we are not approaching it, in my view, in a sufficiently rigorous basis."

Councillor Melvin Caton said: "I couldn't tell which is your main priority. I do think we need some guidance from leading members of the council about what their 10 or three or two [priorities] that they would want people to recognise this administration has achieved. Now, I agree that we should support our students and libraries but how? It doesn't seem to give a great steer to the rest of us."

Defending the plan, Councillor Garry Le Count said: "This is not War and Peace, this is a summary. It is a work in progress."

Responding, Cllr Lodge said of the plan: "It represents a tiny amount of the delivery that will come as I have said you are going to see that as we go along. If you combine this with what we have done already, we have expanded the cabinet to increase democracy and better represent residents. We have started with the working group on the overall government structure of the committee. We are going to present a coherent plan. This is a part of it. This is not the corporate plan in its entirety. You will see a positive, a workable and a visibly improved corporate plan much better than this council has seen before."