Tuesday evening saw a trip to Buxton for a full council meeting to consider amongst other items the council’s budget for the forthcoming year.
In terms of the budget, you can read from my speech to full council below my thoughts and some of the details of the budget
The budget tonight is presented to us under the premises that all is ok, with a balanced budget – no concerns to note over the ending (at least for a year) of the revenue support grant in favour of the business rate retention pilot.
But look beyond the headlines and the cracks are there – despite the efforts of officers to manage and give the appearance that all is well with the resources available.
For tonight’s 2.99% council tax increase – the biggest in many a year – we are not offered any new investment scheme – no shiny new project – just a promise that with a variety of fee and charges increases, a £2.13 million four-year Efficiency & Rationalisation Programme, along with the use of £2.1 million of reserves to meet shortfalls in the early years of the plan whilst the efficiency programme is being implemented – a balanced budget will be achieved.
If we lift up the vail of austerity for a closer look at this year’s plans and proposals – the efficiency and rationalisation programme needs to achieve savings or increased income of £581 k with items including £20k for service rationalisation and £30k for assets rationalisation.
For parking, on the one hand, we will giveth – with an extra hour from 3 pm to 4 pm for the residents parking permit, but if need outside of those hours or you miss lay your pass it’s increases of upward of 20% wherever you look across the borough with the car parks of Glossop suffering a particularly high increase at 33.33%
The vail of austerity gets little mention within the papers but the continued impact of budget reductions can only be so long masked across the borough we hear from our local residents expressing concern at the time taken to get through to the council and at the responsiveness of our services – and whether our prioritisation of online first is driven more by our need for saving than in response to the needs of our residents.
And perhaps now is time as we look to reviewing our leisure arrangements, horticulture and how the Pavilion Gardens will work in the future that we need to be clear that the reductions in funding have had an impact and we won’t be able to respond as well as we have had in the past or will we continue to let the vail remain in place and carry on regardless.
In terms of the HRA account I welcome the work of the executive councillors and members from across the chamber on the HRA working group in terms of getting our HRA account back on track following the governments 1% rent reduction – I particularly welcome proposal going forward this year to reduce the voluntary MRP charge as I suggested in last year’s budget debate
And whilst I welcome the continued achievement of spending the right to buy receipts with the restrictions that government has placed upon us it is still with a note of concern that 1 for 1 replacements seems far away.
Finally in closing whilst I note the hard work of officers and members opposite in there budget proposals presented before council, at this time I’m not able to wholeheartedly support them whilst they lack the wider narration of the impact of the government’s austerity program on councils like our and what it has meant and will mean in terms of services going forward additionally whilst the proposals lack any firm details for actions around supporting and encouraging the growth of local business which will be an essential component in developing the councils financials further going forward as such the labour group will be voting against these budget proposals.
Once the details had been put forward there was a generally good-natured debate, covering a range of issues around the impact of the budget proposals and the impact of the government cuts, with several requests from those on the Labour benches for the council to expand upon and be honest about the impact of austerity on the council.
Whilst on the whole the debate, was good natured and stuck to the topic at hand, unfortunately there was one member, who rather than taking note of the concerns been raised around increased parking charges and their impact on local residents decided to instead insult their residents as detailed below:
There were audible gasps around chamber as Conservative Mayor-elect, Cllr Linda Grooby, who in supporting the upto 33.3% raise in parking charges said they wouldn’t affect people ‘on the bread line’, as they shouldn’t be able to afford a car!😯#unacceptable #outoftouch #HighPeak
— Damien Greenhalgh (@Damientg) February 20, 2018
A disappointing response and not what you would expect from someone nominated to the be the borough’s first citizen.
In terms of the vote for the budget, the budget was approved as presented with 20 voting for the budget (18 Tories, 1 LibDem, 1 Ind) 12 – Against (12 Labour) and 2 – Abstentions (1 LibDem and The Mayor).
Other items considered and approved by the full council meeting included the High Peak Design Guide, Treasury Management update and strategy, audit plan and the pay policy.
You can view the agenda and the papers for the meeting by clicking here.