On Friday the Tory administration finally published the budget papers for the 2011/12 financial year. The papers claim the reason for the unacceptable delay in publication was late information on government grants. I don’t buy it and have asked the Chief Executive for an explanation. Since Tuesday we were told the papers were coming out the following day. Everything I hear lends me to believe that these were down to the administration – either playing games or struggling to come to a final decision.
Regardless their budget is breathtaking. It slices HUGE chunks of budgets for children’s services and social care. Almost £5.5m from Children’s & Families services, about £6.1m from Adult Social Care as well as smaller but harmful cuts from planning, licensing and central services including, for example, health & safety support work. Additionally the Tories propose to spend £1.1m capital funds removing cycle lanes from Grand Avenue & The Drove. Yes, that’s right, removing cycle lanes. They also wish to borrow just over £4.5m to refurbish car parks.
This is the year of the biggest cut in our central government grant, the cuts were front-loaded, so you’d think they’d hang onto every penny. But no, in a cynical gimmick to cling to power, the Tories propose a 1% cut in council tax plus a 5% reduction in resident parking permit costs. This is utterly irresponsible – and as there are waiting lists for residents parking permits this will hardly help manage that demand.
If one uses the admittedly imperfect analogy of a household income… Then this is like a family member getting a pay cut, and knowing more cuts are due in the future, voluntarily giving up MORE of their income. But when one of the family loses their job or gets a pay cut you focus on reducing spending, not reducing income! Income is the thing you absolutely need to stay afloat.
For the next two years the Tories are forecasting 2.5% tax increases, so the 1% reduction is very much a short-haul gimmick for election year. Furthermore they are making some very risky assumptions about inflation and waste tonnages, which are critical to their budget balancing. They are counting inflation to be 2% for the next three years, yet it’s currently 3.7% / 4.8% (CPI / RPI) which is quite some distance from their predictions!
On waste they are saying that they can save on the waste contract because waste tonnages are down due to actions by the council including promoting composting. Yet when I challenged the council about declining recycling rates, they claimed reduced tonnages were due to the recession. Which is it? There has been no major fundamental shift in supermarket’s dependence on packaging (though some incremental improvements by some of them) which leads me to believe that economic growth will also bring growth in waste tonnages again.
That’s it for now. I’m meeting officers next week to run through the many detailed questions and thoughts I have on the Tory budget. My colleague Bill Randall and I have asked to meet Labour councillors to discuss any joint amendments we might be able to agree on. We have until 28th February to submit amendments for checking by finance officers. Watch this space for more updates.