Last night, Labour Group Leader at Canterbury City Council, Councillor Alan Baldock, gave our response to the budget and sought amendments. He focused on the need for greater compassion towards the poor and the vulnerable in the face of radical cuts to funding from central government. These cuts, to zero in 2019, mean we can no longer function in the way we have in the past and appear to face a Hobson’s choice between drastic cuts in services and the prospect of becoming part of a much larger district council, removing future councillors from our democratic base. Proposals for an East Kent District are currently under discussion and will be debated by councillors on March 22nd.
Alan’s speech proposed four amendments to the budget (in bold below). The first proposal for an audit of the impact of cuts and charge increases on the vulnerable was lost, in the face of the huge Conservative majority on the council. We will continue to fight for measures to alleviate the effects of cuts on the most vulnerable in all our work as Labour Councillors and will argue on a broader stage that cuts in central government funding are cruel and unnecessary. The other three proposed amendments re reducing fees for home collection of unwanted items, purple sacks and sports pitch hire fees have been referred to the Community Committee.
This is Alan’s speech in full –
‘We are all privileged to share our lives with those that have shaped society before us and others who rely on the public sector, our services, for help. The young, the vulnerable and the old deserve our respect and care when circumstances place them in need. Should we not ask what more we can do, recognizing the impossible position this government has placed local authorities in, rather than looking for others to lead?
One in five children in families across the Canterbury District lives in poverty, over 5500, a shocking statistic. Yet we all hope that children and young people have the chance to fulfil their hopes and aspirations. Their parents seek safe and secure places to live, food and warmth and the means to secure them. They hope for regular, secure work and money enough to pay the bills. They rightly expect the mutual support of a government, central and local, that looks after their heath, education and welfare in hard times. They are too often the working poor in a high cost district like Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay. Working in minimum wage, often zero hour work, we know full well that many of our residents have no cash for the huge hikes in residents’ parking permits we are imposing, clearly against their will, yet we make no effort even to examine ways of ameliorating their impact through discounts for the poorest or the most vulnerable.
Tonight, there will be perhaps over fifty rough sleepers in our City and dozens of families struggling to keep a roof over their heads, despite their best efforts. Social housing provision is a mess in Canterbury. Councillors, we know that around half of those in need of an affordable home in our district are refused social housing, driving them into the private sector and almost inevitable debt. However, despite the high cost of housing and this Conservative Government’s benefit capping, this Conservative Council still chose to double the amount of Council Tax our poorest and most vulnerable families must pay. Are we wilfully driving the most vulnerable into the greater vulnerability of homelessness and destitution? I fear so.
Last year at this very meeting the Labour Group suggested a budget amendment to put money aside to kick-start council house building. At that stage, the intention was to acquire land, gain outline planning and get the external financing sorted with partners. Needless to say, the amendment was defeated with promises of a great Conservative fix, indeed I was told at the time our amendment may well not be bold enough!
What if you had voted differently? Would we not be here now reflecting on plans for the imminent construction of social or affordable-rent homes – instead of looking back on a wasted year where the need continued to grow and the solution looked even further away. Consider the impact of this year’s inaction and indecision on a family in a bedsit or one room flat. True we have a few private sector homes for social rent, but we could well have had tens of extra homes nearing completion in the coming months.
Surely it is obvious to all of you that your Conservative government’s cuts to Local Government are destroying the very democracy we are here to serve?? We are the whipping boy for a seven-year failed economic experiment. One that has seen the national debt double from 0.8 trillion in 2009 to a staggering 1.6 trillion today and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Or is this all a manifestation of the Tory belief that the state is always bad, so we must ridicule and starve it, make it lame and prepare to privatize it?. Fanciful maybe but that’s what Thatcher did to the utilities, so when will the same happen to Local Authorities?
I know that many of my fellow councillors do not think like this and were reluctant to accept cuts to Enhanced Care and Council Tax Benefits. Many too found the idea of refusing to investigate the impact of Parking Permit increases on carers, those with special needs, essential service providers and those on low incomes, very hard to swallow. I applaud your misgivings and compassion and thank you for your votes. I am therefore proposing that we audit any cuts or charge increases we consider making for their impact on the most vulnerable, either directly or indirectly, and ask our expert officers to make proposals to reduce their detrimental impact on those to whom we have the strongest of moral duties.
But on a lighter note perhaps – We have several minor amendments to put before you this evening, nothing too earth shattering. However, we believe that these very small changes will help hard-pressed residents in a practical way.
First up – Currently there is a charge for the collection of each unwanted household item, settee, washing machine fridge etc. – the cost is prohibitive and does regrettably encourage illegal collection by unlicensed operators offering the deal of a lifetime to unsuspecting residents. The subsequent fly-tipping and clear up is expensive and the environmental damage huge. As such let’s link this proposal to the well-intentioned clamp-down on fly tipping and waste management review. A mutual responsibility will be implied and a reasonable compromise available at a reduced cost
Charge a flat rate of £10 for up to three items collected from your home by our contractor – it’s one journey, one visit, one on line fee – one simple well understood process that clears all the waste items in one go.
On a similar theme and linked to the work on cleaner neighbourhoods let’s put in this budget a nominal value, perhaps £1500 for the resale through local shops of the Purple waste sacks, we have pushed this idea around before – its time to revisit and get it working – overflowing bins are fly tipping in disguise – we need to make the solution easier to achieve.
This is a simple measure that could also raise a small amount of money and potentially save on clear ups too. Currently sacks are proposed at £2-30 per role I have no doubt that there is a margin for the resale by a shopkeeper doing their bit for a cleaner community.
On reading the discretional charges for the hire of sports pitches, it struck us that we seem to have got somewhat out of kilter – it is I am sure uncontentious that we should be doing whatever we can to encourage young people to partake in sport regularly as such this is a small incremental step.
We propose the consolidation of the pitch hire fees for young people’s activities at £20 including VAT covering the 9×9, Mini Football and Junior Football and Junior Cricket. Also, a 10% reduction in the charges for self-help hire of pitches and the hire of tennis courts for junior players.
Perhaps a small gesture in a hard world that may be a thank you to the dedicated families that make young people’s sport happen and provide indirectly a few pounds towards their club’s wider activities.
These are our amendments, we hope you will accept them in good faith as pragmatic and achievable.’