Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Budget Debate - 2014/15

One of the most challenging but enjoyable elements of the budget debate for any Leader is the obligation to sum up the debate and to respond to the issues raised by other members. The opportunity to review both their contributions and my response is now easy to access via Southend Council's website so you don't have to rely on my account. My impression on the evening was that in general terms the contribution by the opposition parties was disappointing and in some cases extremely weak. Of the leaders Lib Dem Graham Longley, who can normally be relied on to come up with some stunt or gimmick, seemed out of sorts. He complained of smoke and mirrors and an apparent failure to provide detail yet under my leadership we have gone to great lengths to provide as much detail as is realistic bearing in mind the proposals are in draft and can effect employees, and certainly more than most authorities. Bizarrely he also commented on our failure to raise council tax but then indicated that he was not proposing doing so. Ian Gilbert for Labour did his usual act of bemoaning the austerity measures with a convenient memory loss on Labour's involvement in the financial difficulties we have faced, unreasonably criticised service level performance and said that he couldn't waste officer time in working with them to put forward alternative budget proposals. This is ridiculous as many other opposition groups around the country manage to prepare alternatives and as I mentioned he could simply have suggested a higher council tax rise and then spent the additional income. If he is so sure the public backs his stance on budget cuts then why would he be afraid of a referendum on a council tax rise of perhaps 5%! As for Independent Party leader Martin Terry he rambled for a considerable time and once again demonstrated his misunderstanding of local government finance - something he freely admitted to a scrutiny meeting a couple of years ago. Of the others I particularly enjoyed the contributions from Steve Aylen who called for the establishment of a members cost cutting committee even though he had failed to attend the all member pre budget sessions to discuss the same issue and Ric Morgan, who unlike last year actually managed to stay in the chamber for the entire debate and cast a vote. So in conclusion all 3 opposition leaders failed to propose any alternatives, amendments or variations to our proposals but all indicated that they would be voting against the budget ignoring our mutual obligation to set a balanced budget. Indeed if we had all followed this dynamic lead we would have set no budget and would have had to come back a week later to have the same debate on the same proposals without opposition amendments and in the meantime the delivery of council bills would have been delayed with a potential loss of income of £100,000- £200,000. They may think that it is clever politics but not as I know it.

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