My name is Richard Henry, and I took over as Stevenage Borough Council Leader on January 1 to continue to build on the initiatives planned that will make Stevenage a great place to live, work and visit.

I am passionate about Stevenage, our arts, culture, and heritage. I moved here in the 1990s with my wife to start a family, our boys are proud to be Stevenage boys.

I look forward to working with our executive team of councillors to make Stevenage Even Better and a place for everyone.

My team and I know some of you faced difficulties over the winter months and we continue to work hard to support you with housing issues, finding affordable homes, cost of living, growing our local economy, and other concerns including anti-social behaviour.

It is important to me that we provide help to residents and businesses in our town, and we will continue to do this with partners such as Stevenage Citizens Advice who give financial advice and support.

The financial pressures on households remains a tough challenge, especially for anyone facing a cost of living crisis. 

We will keep working hard alongside our partners and the Stevenage Development Board to attract investment and create new jobs. 

We’ve seen great success in recent times, like the new Marks and Spencer store in Roaring Meg, the fabulous Co-Space in the town centre, and new Headquarters for Autolus which will create up to 400 jobs. 

We’ve also had the announcement of up to £900m of investment at the GSK site which will lead to 4000 jobs over the next ten years, alongside a recent planning consent for the transformation of The Forum into new space for retail and life sciences, creating another 1,950 jobs.

It is critical that we provide the skills and training development for local people to help them benefit from such developments.

I was pleased to be invited to the launch of the SITEC centre at North Herts College on March 9 which will help to train local people to be able to work in the towns ever developing science and technical sectors including life sciences.

This wonderful new facility is equipped with a simulation life sciences laboratory and a digital training suite which provides virtual reality simulations amongst other features.

We are a Cooperative Council, and I am a firm believer that we can only improve the town and our prospects by working together, and by listening to the ideas and thoughts of local people, businesses, and community groups. 

We will face some tough times ahead both locally and across the wider UK, but by working together locally, we can make Stevenage stand out as an example of a town that is creating more jobs, investing in training for local people, and helping to improve our local environment. 

However, last month we announced our toughest budget this council has faced in years. The cost of living crisis has also affected us as a council with rising inflationary costs and significant reductions in government funding since 2010/11.

We faced difficult decisions to fund a £1.5million deficit in our budget, and we considered a range of cost savings. Sadly, one of these is the closure of our is non-statutory Play service, which will save £601k per year.

Despite huge cuts, we continue to deliver vital front-line services, supporting our most vulnerable residents, housing the homeless, delivering help and emergency funding to businesses and keeping our public spaces safe.

We have worked hard to ensure we have sufficient money to run our services whilst at the same time responding to our residents’ top priorities such as regenerating our town, building more social and affordable homes, and reducing crime.