BURY Council’s new chief executive says he is relishing the challenge of his new role – but warns the borough cannot afford to stand still if it is to continue to thrive.

Geoff Little OBE took up the top town hall job in mid-July after moving from Manchester City Council, which he has served since 1996 – most recently as deputy chief executive.

But he is no stranger to Bury, having worked across the fields of policy and research during the mid-1980s and early 1990s, and he hopes the borough will benefit from the “learning and experience” he has gained in the intervening years.

Mr Little, who began his local government career with Liverpool City Council in the early 70s, says he is very much enjoying his return to his old stamping ground.

He said: “I’m loving it, I’m having a really, really good time and enjoying the role. It’s my first time as chief executive of a council and learning lots of things as I move along.

“I love the place and love the people and I’m starting to get to grips with the council and different organisations and partnerships.”

Mr Little says he has “spent a lot of time listening” during his first weeks in the top job, and is keen to stress that his job is to support the “fantastically ambitious” councillors.

But the 58-year-old has a clear idea of his immediate priorities as he enters his third month as chief executive.

He said: “I want to really focus on the quality of council services, that’s our first priority, how we are supporting the people of Bury with good quality services - street cleansing, refuse collection and recycling, parks and open spaces and libraries - really good facilities that people rely on day-in-day-out.

“We want to get those basics right and, when we get them wrong, respond very quickly.”

October will see perhaps the first big event of the new chief executive’s tenure with the release of the revised Greater Manchester Spatial Framework document – a blueprint for how land will be used across the city region over the next 20 years.

And the town hall boss says the controversial masterplan, which will be subject to a 12-week consultation, as both a challenge and an opportunity for the borough.

He said: “When you think about the bigger picture, the strength of the economy and the quality of life offered here – the heritage, arts, cultural, digital and environmental advantages that Bury has as a place to live - means we are increasingly attracting young people to live here.

“That will continue and grow, young people will want, in increasing numbers, to come and live in Bury – we see that already in parts of Radcliffe.

“But they need affordable housing and we don’t provide that, they will go somewhere else and we will lose their skills and their contribution to the strength of our economy in Bury.”

However, Mr Little he added it was just as important to cater for a fast growing ageing population.

“There is a real challenge in terms of the space in Bury to put that housing. When the spatial framework comes back for consultation in the autumn, I would encourage everyone to be part of that and get involved, so together we can work out the best solution for Bury.”

And Mr Little was keen to stress the importance of continuing to create the a welcoming environment for businesses – particularly in terms of transport links and digital connectivity.

Bury’s health and social care services are due to join up by 2020 as part of an agreement that will see spending powers devolved from Westminster to. Greater Manchester.

And the town hall boss adds that, much like the spatial framework, the change presents a “huge challenge but an enormous opportunity” for the borough, where healthy life expectancy is “well behind” national averages — particularly in some of the most deprived areas.

He added: “The relationship between health and wellbeing and economic prospects means we have to join up health and social care services.

“Why? Because the wider determinants of health actually lie more outside the health services than in the health service.

“The health service is brilliant at treating people, but helping to prevent ill health - the environment housing, access to leisure and good employment, and all those things are part of the council’s wider role in supporting Bury as a place and its people.”

But delivering vital services in future will not be without its challenges. Under austerity Bury Council has had to absorb £78m in cuts to its funding. Two months ago, finance chief Cllr Eamonn O’Brien reported that, the authority was heading for a £3.1m overspend in 2018/19 which would require “decisive action”.

And from 2020 local authorities will have to fund its services purely via council tax and business rates revenues.

Mr Little said: “This is not just a case of cutting services, it’s a case of investing in early intervention and prevention, so people have less need of the services in the first place – that’s the long term strategy.”

But he added: “At the same time we can reduce the need for spending, we can also increase income as a council through growth the amount of council tax and the amount of business rates being generated. So in many ways, long term, I think there will be a positive future.

“In the mean time we have got a very clear budget over a three-year period from last year to next year and it’s one of my personal priorities to put plans in place to deliver that budget.”

Mr Little says the borough’s six town centres are also among his “personal priorities”.

Prestwich was put nominated for Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s ‘Town Centre Challenge’ last year and ambitious plans for the transformation of the Longfield Centre were revealed in August.

But the chief executive said it is just as important to also support the Radcliffe, Ramsbottom, Tottington, Whitefield, and Bury itself.

“Bury as a borough is a collection of six really fantastic towns , the sum of its part is greater than the individual bits, but each has its unique identity,” he said.

“Bury is ahead of other town’s around Greater Manchester, but those towns will catch up, and we have to stay ahead. Helping the town centres to grow as effective places for people to live, as well as to do business, and for leisure and leisure is top of our priorities at the council. And as chief executive, I want to support that.”