Graham Baxter (front figure) carrying a Unite banner on the Chesterfield May Day March 2009. He has been an active trade unionist since his first day at work 54 years ago. (Click onto the picture to enlarge it).
There are times when it is appropriate to put forward words of appreciation for those whose actions we too often take for granted.
In what have been difficult times for Local Government, the North East Derbyshire District Council (NEDDC) has made remarkable progress in recent years under the controlling Labour Team led by Graham Baxter.
In 2008 the NEDDC made local government history by becoming the first council to leap straight from being designated as "weak" to "excellent" in an official national scheme established to judge council performances, known as the Comprehensive Performance Assessment.
The Audit Commission also found that the Council had made good progress in reducing crime and anti-social behaviour, in supporting economic development via successful infrastructure projects which reversed the decline in local jobs and industry, in meeting housing needs including those of the homeless, in working with neighbouring councils and with its local population, in contributing to progress in health, cleanliness, sustainable waste management and much more.
The Council has also received an impressive list of awards and commendations for its services from bodies such as the National Municipal Journal, the Local Government Association, the Cabinet Office, and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Currently it is also nominated for further recognitions of its services. In fact, it is possible to produce a list of at least 34 awards, nominations and commendations which the Council has received since July 2007.
Graham Baxter has also recently been awarded the MBE in recognitions of decades of public service, culminating in his work as leader of the Council since 2004.
But it is not just officialdom which recognises the Council's achievements; three quarters of those responding to a survey felt that the Council has worked to make the area cleaner, greener and a better place. 80% feel that North East Derbyshire is a good place to live.
The support which the Council gives to the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers' Centres is also exceptional. Graham Baxter is an active Chair of this key organisation. It provides welfare rights advice and makes representations on all aspects of Welfare Benefits to anyone that requires it. Each year it deals with around 10,000 enquiries and represents some 200 people at tribunals, recovering over £1.5 million for the local economy and thereby preserving jobs. NEDDC's continuing support and involvement with this body is crucial in current circumstances.
The Coalition Government is now proposing to cut the budget of the Department of Communities and Local Government by 36.6% over the next 4 years, whilst capping Council Tax levels as an extra means of cutting local authority access to resources.
In the years ahead, the North East Derbyshire District Council will need to exercise the same forms of creative response which it has recently shown under Graham's leadership. It will also need to link with the wider Labour Movement to push back the Coalition's threat of massive cuts.
It is imperative that Graham and his team have local backing from the electorate to be returned to office in next year's District Council Elections.
In the meantime, it is a big thank you.