THE LEADER of Herefordshire Council has called on opposition leaders to rally round and find a solution to the authority’s financial challenges.
The Conservative-led council needs to save £15 million in 2014/15 but Coun Tony Johnson is urging It’s Our County and Herefordshire Independents to join the decision-making, saying a refusal would show they had ‘no viable solutions’ to offer residents.
In a statement released yesterday (Tuesday), he said: “I am giving the leaders of the two main opposition groups the opportunity to join the administration and to work with us to achieve the goal that I believe we all share – making Herefordshire the best it can be.
“If they accept my invitation, they will continue to have access to every piece of information that informs our decisions and to influence them. They will be able to propose alternative solutions that we can then discuss frankly and openly so that we can arrive at an agreed set of actions that will help Herefordshire weather the current storm.
“My invitation is made in the interests of Herefordshire and for no other reason. If opposition groups have viable solutions then it would be wrong if they are not implemented as soon as possible.
“I believe that the people of Herefordshire expect their councillors to work together to address the problems we face and I am more than prepared to do so in the best interests of Herefordshire.”
He added should the offer be refused, the Conservatives would continue to implement policies necessary to balance the budget, but refusal would demonstrate an ‘unwillingness’ to unite in the face of an unprecedented financial situation – which he felt would be noted by all residents.
“I believe that it is right to make this offer now so that all residents know that nothing is being excluded as we seek solutions.
“I am setting aside party advantage for the good of Herefordshire and I sincerely hope that the leaders of the other groups will do the same. Co-operation across the groups can only benefit us all.”
Coun Sebastian Bowen, Herefordshire Independents group leader, said it was a ‘brave and practical’ sensible proposal.
He said he would have to consult with his colleagues before any decision was made but he felt it should have happened after the last election.
“We are in hard times and I think we do need to work together and do what we can to make the best of the our fortunes. The Government has given us a pretty rough deal so unity and joint support are probably very important. I would hope we can perhaps now work together for the good of the county.”