Wednesday 16th July 2014
After an ongoing ten and a half years as part of the Chesterfield Borough Council, Huw Bowen, the current Chief Executive spoke to The Chesterfield Post about his roles as part of the council and ongoing issues within The Borough.
To begin with, having moved on from the High Peak Borough Council, Huw Bowen (left), was the director placed to look after the front line services.
He was then lucky enough to become Deputy Chief Executive under the guidance of David Shaw and when he retired in 2008,
Huw was awarded the pole position and has retained the role ever since.
His role as Chief Executive involves recommending, implementing and helping with the decisions made by the forty- eight councilors in terms of policy.
His title also includes being Head of Paid Service and he currently leads 1,100 employees.
He is expected to take on the role of returning officer as part of his duty, which is a personal accountability and something that is quite difficult says Huw. As well as this, he also makes sure that everyone who is entitled to vote is put on a register.
This routine has changed just this month Huw told us, saying "We're going from household registration to one where all electors have to individually register."
This scheme has come just in time for an important period for the council in which Huw will play an integral part in the elections. The Parliamentary Elections will take place next May as well as the Borough and Local Parish Elections for Staveley and Brimington.
Elections always take place on a Thursday, although the counts are sometimes held the following day.
They always result in a very long day for Huw, which involves the polling day from 7am until 10pm, then the verification process and finally, the counting process which leads to approximately 4am, at which time Huw announces the results, describing it as quite a "nerve-wracking experience". During this process Huw has to make sure all the polling stations and count venues are properly resourced for the event.
The council currently issues around 14,000 postal votes, which has greatly increased in recent times. However, this increase hasn't reflected too much elsewhere, despite many campaigns.
Huw says "It tends to be people of a particular age" and stats such as a recent 21% turnout in Staveley reflects this. Although schemes put forward via Sixth Form Centres and the Chesterfield College have been quite successful, there is still only a 60% turnout overall in most Parliamentary elections. Huw says "There is a lot more work to do" and hopes promoting this topic via TV and radio will aid this.
For all his effort, Huw was rewarded this year by being placed as the 11th most influential person in Derbyshire in local news. Although 'surprised' at first, he soon found the funny side of it he joked that "the only way is down" and is "worried about where I'll be next year, if there at all!"
However, before Huw does reach pole position in Derbyshire, he has still got many issues he needs to sort out here in Chesterfield with, for the council, funding being a major problem.
The Central Government have cut the funding down by 50% over the past four to five years, which equates to around £4.5 million. Huw also feels that by 2020 they are going to have to be able to self-fund the Council through the retention of business rates and such like.
Alongside this issue, welfare reform is another problem the council are currently facing, particularly with the introduction of bedroom tax, which has affected 1,100 out of the 9,600 tenants in Chesterfield.
Another problem that the Borough Council is facing is unemployment and in particular, youth unemployment.
Recently however, through good work done by Chesterfield College and business leaders for example, the percentage of youth unemployment has decreased from 12.5% to 7.9%. Many apprenticeships have also taken place, which has helped youths get into work.
However, on the other end of the spectrum, regeneration plans promoted by the council seem to be really prolific, with around £1 billion of regeneration projects in plan or in progress, including for example Chesterfield Waterside.
Huw went on to say, "Money gives people choices", when describing the plans and feels this will contribute to Chesterfield becoming a thriving and prosperous place. He would also like to make Chesterfield competitive against other areas and feels these plans will provide this alongside well-paid jobs.
Huw also feels that there is a real opportunity to exploit the tourism sector.
The general problem for Chesterfield is that as tourists come off the M1, they hit Hornsbridge roundabout and then head off up Chatsworth Road, completely avoiding Chesterfield.
This is something they would like to change and through schemes like Destination Chesterfield, which has been very successful, they should be able to attract more tourists, who in turn will then spend money in local shops, restaurants, hotels etc.
Huw says that they are "blessed to be on the edge of the 2nd most visited National Park in the World" and now hopes that they can now work with that to make Chesterfield a more thriving area to be in.
A good visitor information centre, coach stations and attractions like The Crooked Spire will only aid this, and generally once people visit Chesterfield, they like it. The council have also spent £4 million refurbishing the market hall and Huw feels the historic market place setting sets Chesterfield apart.
All this work is thankfully being rewarded by an 11% increase in tourist numbers and spends and a 9% uplift in the number of people employed in the tourist sector. However, there is still more work to do!
One contributing factor to this increase in tourism is a very successful football club, which has just been promoted to League 1. Huw says that it is fantastic and that "it puts us on the map. Everyone's talking about Chesterfield and the higher they go up the divisions, the more supporters they will get.
"As supporters come along, they tend to bring husbands and wives with them and potentially families, who can then roam around the town centre and in turn spend money in the local shops and restaurants. The new football stadium is another attraction, which can be hired for conferences and workshops.
"All of these factors joined together is ultimately important for the economy and Chesterfield" says Huw.
Huw has a very close relationship with the Leader of the Council, John Burrows (left), and has to fulfill as part of his duty, a politically restricted role.
Their ultimate vision is to put the community first and there are three priorities they are looking to achieve in order to do this.
First of all, they want to provide high quality, value for money services.
Secondly, they want to create a thriving borough and finally, they want to improve the quality of life for local people.
To fulfill this there are a number of projects they have taken on like achieving 100% decency in council homes. There's then, as mentioned, the £340 million Chesterfield Waterside Project, and also Peak Resort and Markham Vale.
They tend to start the process of developing the council's priorities around September and finally agree on these around March. It is then important that they start aligning the funding to support delivery of the priorities and projects. This funding process also starts in September and ends in March, so the two processes run side by side.
The Chesterfield Waterside Project will deliver 1,500 new homes, a leisure quarter around the already constructed canal basin, and 300,000 square metres of office space.
Peak Resort, a £250 million private development should provide two and a half thousand new jobs. Huw also hopes that it will be "fantastic for tourism", which in turn will bring money straight back into the Chesterfield economy.
Finally, there is Markham Vale, a project which aims to provide 5,000 new jobs for local people.
If these projects in the future are successful, it will allow for the completion of Huw's two main aims for the next five years: to work on the economy and to reduce unemployment.
Alongside these regeneration plans, Huw also advises that 7,600 new homes will be needed over the next twenty years as will investment in good facilities and services for local people. The planned replacement Queen's Park Sports Centre and The Healthy Living Centre in Chesterfield are just two examples of this.
Huw went on to say that what matters to him and John Burrows is not necessarily what happens inside the building but actually what happens outside the windows of the Town Hall.
Hopefully, Huw's care for the community and the future of Chesterfield will continue to propel the town towards a greater status within the region and a unity within the people of Chesterfield.
Under this sort of guidance, Chesterfield looks sure to be a success in the near future.
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