Nobody could envy Council administrations in putting together this year’s budgets in what must be some of the most difficult circumstances for local government in many years. In Norwich, we were asked to vote to hike council tax, cut local services, diminish our reserves and whilst the issue of blame was flung around the chamber; from Labour with its priorities wrong, the hapless Greens with no economic sense and the LibDems still licking their wounds from previous financial atrocities; we could all agree where this crisis started even if we disagree on what to do now.
Aside from the fact that the overall settlement for the City Council still runs below the growth in inflation, the Labour government still won’t fund council’s adequately for doing the job we are required to perform by law. When the change to licensing laws came in, the City Council was under funded by tens of thousands of pounds for the task of performing a duty we had to do by law. Now Labour are at it again, with concessionary bus fares. Taking a popular services that is well used, Labour have created a scheme of funding that is desperately unfair to cities like Norwich. Nobody here opposes the concessionary bus fare; but we do want fair funding for it. Labour’s duplicity on this issue leaves us £1.5m adrift and at a time when the council and taxpayers can least afford it.
So we are left with having to hike tax and cut services? Well that’s what the orthodoxy of the left would have you believe.
How can it be then, that the Conservative Group could have staved off the worst of Labour’s cuts to services, reduce council tax – and without raiding reserves? Simple; the belts at City Hall just weren’t
tight enough and we put the financial pain at the feet of the politicians rather than the feet of the residents.
The Conservatives in Norwich proposed removing £96,500 of the worst of Labour’s cuts and also reducing council tax by 1%; all by identifying extra savings that could have been made at City Hall – including:
- Reducing councillors allowances by £10,000 – done by cutting the size of the Executive from 8 to 6 (we are a council of 39 members – do we really need 8 highly paid top councillors?)
- Cutting all-but-essential postage to Councillors, saving £2000 – obviously agenda papers that are time limited should be posted by why should tax payers fork out to post “Cllr” magazine to me when I go into City Hall 3 or 4 times a week myself?
- Cancelling newspaper subscriptions, saving £4,000 – most news stories are on the net. Why can we not get the information for free in this way? OK, maybe the Comms team need a copy – but everyone else can go online.
- Remove the political assistants, saving £57,000 – unbelievably one Green Councillor said he needed his political assistant to help him cope with his casework. What rubbish – we are paid allowances, so do the work yourself! Why should taxpayers fork out for councillors allowances and then political assistants to do our jobs on top of that? That Green Cllr is their Euro-candidate so presumably all his campaigning up and down the region is why he cannot spare the time to work for his residents.
- The unitary budget should be cut by £200,000 – Norwich City Council has spent enough on this giant white elephant. We nearly spend more than the County Council who are the lead authority for the preferred bid. People are fed up with services being cut whilst bureaucracy flourishes.
Needless to say our budget was voted down; but not before the other
groups had to admit that the numbers added up and we could have cut tax
and saved services had we been willing to make these sacrifices.
All Conservative Councils – be us in opposition or in control – should
be striving to put our principles of low taxation into practice.
So we congratulated the administration and the officers for finding
more savings and more chances to make the council more streamlined; in
fact, when you look at some of these you have to ask why they weren’t
eliminated years ago.
That is why we put forward those items which we believe should not be
cut and have put forward extra savings which we believe could be made.
When it comes to highway repairs, tree maintenance, play park safety
and litter bins, the public would question the priorities of the
council if they were cut.
Because local people would have a right to be angry if their
Councillors (and especially their Conservative Councillors) voted for
political assistants at City Hall over litter bins in streets and
parks. Or newspapers for staff over fixing pot holes in the streets. Or
councillors allowances over play park safety. Or yet more spending on
unitary over tree and park maintenance.
So come on Conservatives out there; cutting council tax can be done if
we have the will to do it. 1% may not sound like a lot but it is a
signal of intent – what we want to achieve. To paraphrase, the left
want us to think council tax must keep going up and up – can we cut it?
Yes, we can.