Friday, 27 February 2015

Woodley fails to convince

I managed to endure the early part of Southend Council’s Budget Debate yesterday evening although it was quite hard work to even make it through leader Ron Woodley’s lengthy budget speech. I am sure that he would be the first to admit that he is no great orator but if I could offer some advice, he spoke for probably 15 minutes too long and if he is writing a speech (unless of course this was written in part by officers) it is probably worth avoiding words that you struggle to pronounce.

The style was unexciting but the content was even worse. I do wonder whether he truly believes the things he says or whether he knows he is talking hogwash but is simply trying to hoodwink the public.

I will comment separately on his response to the Conservative budget amendments which were unconvincing in the extreme, but what was also interesting was his willingness to claim credit on behalf of himself and his colleagues for achievements which were worked up to the point of delivery by the last Conservative Administration and which he criticised at the time, together with his failure to accept his inability to deliver on a number of his own pledges.

I have commented previously on the problems for a new Administration making an early mark as it takes so long to develop, agree and implement policy. As a result it is not unusual for politicians to claim credit for the work of others but with Ron he gives the impression that he actually believes what he is saying!

The heralded council house build, the progress in Victoria Avenue, the retention of weekly waste collections, the progress with the Seaway and Med Tech proposals, and the implementation of LED lighting to deliver revenue savings rather than switch off street lights at night, are all Conservative initiatives which were well advanced or part implemented but which Ron now claims credit for. This list is not exhaustive.

In the meantime what about the cutting of red tape and the reduction of borrowing? It is clear that if there is massive inefficiency and red tape bursting from every cupboard in the Civic Centre as Ron was so keen to tell us in previous years he has been unable to find it.

His position on borrowing is even more ridiculous. He is claiming that he has cut the cost of borrowing. The reality is that when a budget is set certain assumptions are made as to the level of borrowing required and the cost of that borrowing is factored in to the revenue budget. Southend Council has a very effective treasury management team which can often reduce the cost of borrowing by delaying external borrowing through using available internal funds. In addition interest rates have remained below the level anticipated. Borrowing costs have reduced purely because of this effective treasury management which has taken place over a number of years and not because of anything this Administration may have done or not done. It would have happened anyway. What the Administration has done is to introduce a number of new capital schemes for the coming year funded by external borrowing meaning that borrowing costs will be higher than would otherwise be the case. He is increasing not reducing borrowing.

In addition whilst we have claims of success with regard to care homes and Shoebury flood defences there has been no attempt to address the issues which have been raised by myself and others and which are detailed in my recent items on these projects.

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