“AS THE largest town in Hampshire, Basingstoke is very important to the county council.”
Those words from Hampshire County Council leader Councillor Roy Perry will hearten local politicians in the town and borough – and it seems that the new man at the top is keen to strengthen the ties between county and borough.
He says: “Basingstoke’s importance is one of the reasons that three members of my county cabinet come from this area – namely Stephen Reid, Anna McNair Scott and Keith Chapman.
“I have already visited Cllr Clive Sanders, the leader of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, and have discussed with him the development pressures on Basingstoke, and our shared aim to ensure young people growing up in the town have the opportunity to live in their home town.
“What I am determined to achieve is that there is adequate infrastructure, particularly roads and schools, to meet Basingstoke’s needs to match any development.”
Cllr Perry adds: “The county council is a major partner with the borough in providing for the leisure and cultural needs of the town, such as in our shared provision of Milestones, and I will do my best to ensure this partnership continues. I am also keen that the urban and rural areas of the borough will have first-class broadband provision.”
Not surprisingly, helping schools and their pupils in the Basingstoke area to achieve their full potential is important to the man who was previously the county’s executive member for children’s services – and he clearly feels that there is room for improvement in the secondary sector.
He says: “The county’s role with schools is more limited as school governing bodies achieve more autonomy, but we still retain a school improvement service.
“I am keen that the secondary schools, in particular, have all the help needed to improve their standards. Already, the primary schools are achieving well, and I want the secondary schools to match similar levels.”
With a new computer on his desk and a photograph of his two grandchildren prominently displayed, Cllr Perry has quickly made the leader’s office at Hampshire County Council his own.
After the local elections in May, his predecessor Cllr Ken Thornber finally quit after 14 years as leader, and Cllr Perry trounced his rival Cllr Mel Kendal in the ensuing leadership ballot.
The Conservatives, with 45 seats, held on to power, albeit with a reduced majority. Facing them are the Liberal Democrats with 17 and Labour with four. But UKIP are also in the mix after surprising the established parties, winning 10 seats.
Cllr Perry, father of MP Caroline Nokes, who represents Romsey and Southampton North, is clearly at ease in his new surroundings.
The 70-year-old council leader receives about 100 emails per day and wants to get to grips with social media. He is considering starting a leader’s blog and Twitter page but says he will need “a lot of careful tuition.”
The father-of-two lives in Wellow with his wife, Veronica. They have been married for 45 years.
A former senior lecturer in politics at Southampton College of Technology, now Solent University, Mr Perry was elected to Test Valley Borough Council in 1979 and served as its leader between 1985 and 1994.
After a failed bid to become a Tory MP for Swansea in 1992, Cllr Perry served as MEP for the Isle of Wight and South Hampshire constituency between 1994 and 2002. In 2005, he was elected to the county council in Romsey Extra division.
Cllr Perry was among 152 council leaders to sign an open letter to Chancellor George Osborne from the Local Government Association (LGA), calling for no more local authority cuts. But, as last week’s Spending Review announcement revealed, that plea fell on deaf ears.
Cllr Perry says: “A lot of the low-hanging fruit has certainly already been taken. We are doing our damnedest to retain frontline services. It is a question of doing more with less.”
Hampshire has shaved £100million from its budget over the last two years. About 1,400 jobs were shed with 800 voluntary redundancies and 600 posts frozen. Budgets were also cut for Sure Start children’s centres, youth services, rural buses, libraries, museums, voluntary groups and social care for the elderly and disabled.
Plans in the pipeline include teaming up to provide back office services with the police and fire service authorities. There will also be more job losses as the county faces a further 10 per cent reduction in Government funding.
Cllr Perry says: “I think a crunch task we face is keeping the quality of environment while making Hampshire prosperous for everyone who lives here. That is a difficult thing to achieve. “