By Councillor Alan Baldock / Latest News / 0 Comments

Labour’s opposition to the new council budget

An exert fromLabour Group Leader Alan Baldock’s Speech to council opposing the council budget for 2020/2021:

“It is of course his administrations choice how Canterbury City Councils public money is spent, money collected from Whitstable, Herne Bay, the villages and Canterbury, the public should not forget that, nor will the Labour Group on this Council. The new Corporate Plan is out for consultation, it unsurprisingly starts with four key principles – including this excuse –Principle Four:“We will focus our increasingly scarce resources on meeting the needs of our communities”

Come on, surely a Council should be looking to have even a tiny bit of ambition and imagination and be just a bit positive about what it wants to achieve and how to achieve it, not publish its apology for failure as Key Principle 4.

BUT I grant you there are a few difficulties to work through:

There is the issue of the Governments effective cap on Council Tax and Social Housing rent over the last few years, the almost total wipe out of the Revenue Support Grant, having to be mindful of the constant fiddling about with the much-lauded funding stream from the New Homes Bonus.

You could also blame those people on the Governments new Universal Credit for the increasing amounts of rent and Council Tax arrears because of the abject poverty now facing them.

Maybe a few other tetchy points like suddenly doubling the interest rate from the Public Sector Loans Board and the recurrent fact that no decision on Local Government funding is ever made by central government for the long term and no promise can ever be trusted now anyway.

The trouble is it’s been YOUR PARTY the TORY Party in power for the last ten years – it’s your Party that made the choices that results in you making excuses now.  Austerity was a political choice not a necessity. 

It’s those choices in Government on austerity that are responsible for the homeless without hope on our City pavements, the filthy streets and mould infested leaking houses, home to the most vulnerable and hungry children bought up in poverty, the struggling community centres cutting back to stay open for as long as they can for cold and lonely pensioners and desperate struggling families.  The loss of £80K to the Rise Program, something that results in perhaps a half a million loss to charities who loose match funding.

They are just the tip of the iceberg; they are the result of your Governments choices and the reason for your excuses.

Martin Luther said “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”

We will never be silent about that so stick with me for a few more moments.  Thank you by the way Cllr Thomas for not tutting as much as your predecessors.

This budget must of course reflect on the consequences of your administration – including hiding under snoopy’s blanket as East Kent Housing failed its tenants year on year.  The Labour Group offered indicators on many occasions and indeed previous budget amendments – you made the choices to ignore them.

East Kent Housing was an experiment in Tory ideology that put saving money above all else and it failed spectacularly.  Now its tenants must shoulder the cost of returning Council houses to a decent standard and placing Social Housing management back with this Council where it rightly belongs.  The unknown cost of compliance failure, urgent repairs and capital works makes the Housing Revenue account very fragile over coming years.  Now is not the time to seek amendments, simply to thank officers for unpicking the mess.

This Conservative Council and its predecessor have racked up huge debts that must be serviced, those debts are now an intrinsic part of this Councils Budget and will be so for generations, debts born from the purchase of Whitefriers and other retail units ,the multi-storey shed, planned leisure centre refurbishments and property at the Canterbury Riverside and much more.  The ability to make the current yearly interest payments of £11.7M rising to £13.4M in 23/24 is rightly identified as risky. 

We don’t know if the wheels will fall off retail and business rents plunge, the effects of Brexit on our economy, one that is linked so strongly to tourism and education may be catastrophic.  If the debts can’t be serviced then further cuts will have to be made and fall to our residents’ to burden the consequences.

Being positive, It’s worth asking simply why this Council does not looks to increase its revenue, diversifying away from the old failing model of commercial rents?  Its time to be bold and radical, do stuff that changes lives from the bottom up and truly put your residents first.  Tonight, is a good time to reflect on fixing the root of the problem, not making the excuses.

Move forward with getting permission for a tourist tax, we have about 7.8 million tourists visit our district each year so on average say 50P each would be quite useful.  Could be collected at hotels, ticket sales and coach park – maybe worth thinking about?

What about an employee parking levy, employers with less than ten employee parking spaces and small businesses are not affected nor is customer parking.  Larger organisations with more than ten would have to pay for all there spaces at say £400 each space per year.  It discourages commuting by car so reducing congestion.  The money is ring fenced for travel improvements, Nottingham are doing this and have raised £21m since 2012.  Scale it back to reflect the size of our authority it’s still probably a few hundred thousand each year.

 I don’t know if there is the political will or energy in this Leadership to do anything that’s truly innovative and to be first rather that a follower. Let’s face it the scope of imagination reached for this budget was to charge for green bin collection and hiking parking charges under cover of a green wash.

This budget cried out for innovation for new funding sources, something every council must face up too if we are to fight this Governments spiteful cuts.  This district has an appetite for change, now is the time to think outside the box, so checkout those two books you never know and seek out innovation.

Finally, our residents deserve leadership on Climate Change, they expect Canterbury City Council to demonstrate progress on meeting the commitment made when they declared a Climate Emergency way back in the summer.  That action needs to be urgent, imaginative, practical and inclusive.  It’s even in that Corporate Plan!!  So with that in mind we propose a simple amendment to the budget that looks to the future and will demonstrate commitment to facing head on the Climate Change Emergency in this District with innovation and opportunity. Currently there is £500K reserve set aside for Climate Change “action”.  We seek to replace that reserve with the money collected from the immensely unpopular green bin changes.  That amount ring fenced for a Climate Change Innovation Reserve available this year and until at least 2030 at an amount not less than £500K per year. This year the new Climate Change Innovation Reserve would need to be “topped up” by around £150K.  In future years the collected amounts from the Green Bin subscriptions would most likely be more in line with £500K budget. 

Who knows new ideas and business may well blossom through seed funding alongside innovative infrastructure and low carbon works being implemented? It is certainly a greener outcome from a very un-green proposal and does not change the budget balance.

Our Budget Amendment is: –

“Establish a Climate Change Innovation Reserve fund of not less than £500K per year until 2030.  The fund will replace the current Climate Change Reserve and will comprise of ring-fenced monies collected from charges made for green waste collection.  In year one the fund will comprise of the first-year green bin charges (estimated £350K) and approx. £150K of the existing Climate Change Reserve”