Budget 2017/18 speech to council

On 15 Feb here’s what I had to say about the Tories’ proposed budget:

This council is constrained by central Government’s continued cuts in funding to local government. We expect no complaints from the ruling administration about that; it’s their party running the show.

This budget is supported by a c tax increase for residents. I heard the leader of County Council said yesterday, ‘Who in their right mind would vote for a c tax increase?’ Does the Leader of this council agree with that sentiment?

In this past year, we’ve adopted a Corporate Plan, which lists councils priorities for five years. Tonight’s budget is for year two of the five. Since the details of the Corporate Plan are delayed a little, we don’t yet have sight of what this administration plans to do to achieve our objectives. So it’s not easy for council members to see how the proposed budget supports this councils’ priorities.

The Corporate Plan explicitly prioritises keeping our position as a top performer on waste collection and recycling. This budget shows reduced income and higher costs for waste and recycling. How much more yearly expense is it worth to keep our position as a top performer? What IS a top performer, exactly?

We have a Corporate Plan priority of ‘Supporting community events through our grants scheme.’ But this budget eliminates community festival grants. Really?

The Corporate plan says right up front that ‘housing is our greatest challenge’. Which of these budget growth items will provide more housing at affordable prices, to rent or to buy, for residents of Vale?

In keeping our Corporate Plan’s promise to keep communities clean and attractive, what sort of budget support is there for litter picking along our A roads? How about intractable problems such as the Fly Tip Mountain in Redbridge that made the news just this week?

It appears this year’s budget decisions were driven by something other than our adopted Corporate Plan, but I don’t know what that was, because the process is not yet open to public scrutiny. Hopefully our Scrutiny Committee can improve that.

We are in year one of the Five Councils partnership for outsourcing. From the essential  growth bid we see a £1.5million hit in savings forecast over the next two years. I’m surprised this council didn’t get some financial benefit for being the first to go live, considering the extra risk on our shoulders for going first and letting our partners benefit from our learning. Was this the intention?

In order to make some limited revenue savings, this budget sells our planning officers’ time to other councils for training and service. I question whether this a good idea. Do our planning officers actually have extra time on their hands that we can sell to other authorities? I’d like to see a net financial statement for this please.

For six years  my colleagues and I in the northeast area of the Vale have persisted in arguing for a fair provision of leisure facilities for people who live in Botley, Cumnor and surrounding communities. This budget sees a 2-days-a-week Vale officer to help the Botley community plan for the leisure facilities they need and want. Then when the money is received from the sale of West Way, some of it is to be prioritised for the provision of leisure facilities for the people in the Botley area. I’ve been told off the record that this is the intention. Will the leader confirm publicly that these things are a priority for council to provide for the people in Botley and the northeast area of the Vale?

Budget setting processes take place behind closed doors. We used to hold public consultations on the budget, but that has shut down in recent years. I’d like to see council be more transparent in how it determines what growth bids are included and wish care rejected.  After all, it’s public money and the public should have a view into and a say on how it’s all managed.

In times of austerity (even when that austerity is imposed arbitrarily from central government) we owe it to our residents to make our budget decisions based on our agreed corporate objectives, ensure our agreed expenditures are systematically managed and overseen, and that our performance is assessed at year end against our objectives. I don’t think council is doing its best in this, and I’d like to see improvement.