At last Thursday’s Council Meeting, the Tory administration Budget was presented for debate and Lib Dem Group Leader spoke against the budget, and his statement is as follows. The Administration won the motion, with support from 5 Independent Councillors. The Liberal Democrat and Labour Groups, all voted against.
The leader has presented his final budget clearly and concisely and with his usual aplomb. Cllr Lamb the newly announced Conservative leader has a lot to live up to when it becomes his turn, but I must warn him he may be waiting a while before getting his chance so maybe he could do a little training
The Leaders last budget before he rides off into the sunset is one that is a little difficult to read. The easy part is that he has taken his 30 pieces of silver from the governments Community Secretary, Eric Pickles to enable him to announce no increase in Council Tax. He could have used an additional half a million through a small Council Tax increase to do more. In many ways it is a budget with some good aspects or as an Ofsted inspector might say “Satisfactory, requires further improvement – but then who wouldn’t support capital expenditure which provides 10mil for Education and the provision of a new primary school, 10mil for development of the airport business park which will continue to provide jobs, £8 mil to progress the disaster that is Victoria Avenue and the empty derelict blocks that the entry into the town, £6.7 million towards our highways, improved lighting where we are spending to save, further highways schemes improving the Tesco roundabout and many more.
However the newest of his budgets before he retires (I remember him joining us, the first time – I wonder if he will make another comeback) – leaves the council with a high borrowing figure – some might say too high - which is added to by this year’s capital programme growth. This group is supportive of borrowing in principle, provided we have a revenue budget which is protected and which takes account of the repayment needs of the capital sums which we are assured is ok by our financial professionals. Many of the new developments and changes to the town couldn’t have been done without borrowing and to be fair most of us in this chamber have used the borrowing process in our lives without blinking an eyelid.
Turning to the revenue budget we are being treated to the usual process seen over the last 7 years from this leader – job cuts, services curtailed, departments joined together and fees increased although it is clear that in many areas, consumer resistance has got to the stage where further increases are not viable – parking and leisure charges have not been increased this year for example not because the administration is feeling benevolent but because the different areas failed to meet their revenue income targets and it is thought that if they were increased further there would be an even bigger shortfall.
The worry is though that when a new administration takes over in May they will face a similar note to the one faced by the coalition government telling it “There’s no money left”.
Some twenty years ago around this same time I recall a stormy council meeting where a young tory bull (in his first term) accused me after my budget speech of being a magician pulling rabbits out of hat. Well as we have found out since he is no more a magician than I was but I have no doubt that he has been using smoke and mirrors to produce this last budget as he has done over with them all over many years.
Much closer in time, indeed only two years ago, the this group produced a policy document for Southend which we called 6 to fix and in it we called for a range of actions which amongst others included the using of compulsory purchase to kick start the rescue of our landscape, initially on the buildings in Victoria Avenue, financing of the Airport business Park, building of a new school avoiding split sites schools, major road repairs including potholes and the grass verges and the building of more beach huts
Our proposals included many other ideas a few which appear to be part of this budget but the question no doubt to be asked is could we have done better. Well clearly we would think so. We could have raised the Council tax to the maximum allowed by the Government, 1.98% which we are not recommending but would have given us an extra approximately £500,000 to spend this year and in the future. So the question becomes a bit like a song I remember “how many ways to spend a sum like half a million”
Well bearing in mind recent Library cuts, we could have saved a number of jobs retaining professional staff. We could have saved our elderly person homes we could be putting more into our flood defences we but in the end this is the Tory groups budget upon which they will be judged and upon which they will stand or fall.
Mr Mayor, this is a budget which has “please re-elect us” written all over it. We may be accused this evening in his response of not coming forward with answers to the boroughs problems but in the end he has made his own bed and he should lie on it, except that he won’t, his deputy will, if he gets the chance.
We have laid out and referred to previously, policy for the town which we will do again but we prefer to put this to the electorate. Six to Fix remains applicable and clearly shows what we would do. As I said before one or two of these items have appeared in the budget so does that mean we can support the budget, sadly the answer is no. The budget before us may have some crumbs that we could support, it may have some policies we can accept and it may help some people but in the end only a few. The fact is that we have reached this position despite any input we may have had rather than through serious consultation and acknowledgement of anything we might have added.
The loss of 49.5 jobs, is just one item we cannot support. With that in mind alone, we will vote against this budget and just in case anyone things this is a small excuse let me add to those the 80 posts from last year, and the 120 the year before that and the 177.7 the year before that. And the rest of those who have lost their jobs the previous three years as part of the Leaders 7 year reign.
No, Mr Mayor, enough is enough – we will oppose this budget.