Sutton Council’s Conservative Opposition proposed a 1.75% cut in Council Tax and a freeze for three years in a row thereafter, in their recent budget amendment. It was no surprise when the Liberal Democrat establishment rejected these plans but the first alternative budget put forward in two decades by the Conservative opposition was so much more than a straw man. In presenting our proposals, we have the fully-costed means with which to bring real change through fresh thinking in Sutton.
The Liberal Democrats with their ten seat majority, stuck to their freeze which, whilst very welcome, was what we were asking for last year to help people through the recession. The political differences were stark. In a stunning intervention, one longstanding Liberal Democrat councillor and former Mayor said it was “a privilege to pay council tax” whilst explaining why people can pay more.
Councillor Tim Crowley, Conservative Finance and Value for Money Spokesman presented the alternative Budget. Among the new positive proposals in this were plans for a rewards scheme to pay residents for the amount of waste they recycle, an Armed Forces council tax discount of 50% and a new priority card for Sutton residents providing discounts in local shops and businesses, plus preferential rates for council services such as leisure centres, parking and theatres.
Councillor Crowley outlined savings which included reductions in the Council’s reliance on outside consultants, streamlining communications work, making Sutton Scene, our bi-monthly council magazine entirely self-funding, and a targeted freeze in additional staff recruitment with net savings of £1.472m – the same amount needed to cut council tax by 1.75%. Our assumptions were cautious to the extreme. Figures on vacant posts and spending on outside consultants varied wildly depending on who we spoke to. These seem pretty basic questions. How can you budget if you don’t know who you have working for you? The original figure we received for unfilled posts was the equivalent of 20% of the entire workforce. This obfuscation is no sensible foundation for careful planning. If elected in May, we will publish all Council spending over £500. I’ve been to Windsor & Maidenhead, met David Burbage and his colleagues and know that being open and transparent works.
When the Liberal Democrats voted against our Budget they voted against a cut in council tax, against increased investment in training for adult social services, against a residents’ priority card for services and shops, and against a 50% discount for British soldiers on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know what they are against but what are they for? It’s a shame that the Liberal Democrats could not put residents first and politics second to vote for this forward-thinking budget. Residents will be able to judge for themselves when these proposals go forward into our manifesto.
Conservative councils know we must do more for less money. This simply isn’t happening at the moment in Sutton. Sean Brennan, Leader of Sutton Council, lauded the savings that the Council had made. However a cursory look at the budget book will show increased spending across the board. Spend, spend and spend some more. Budgets never come down in Sutton and when ‘efficiencies’ are made they never make it as far as the Sutton taxpayer’s pocket. That’s not a saving in my book. In contrast, Sutton Conservatives have spent two years on a comprehensive review of every council service area and seen how other councils are tackling the issues that we face. We are determined to replace a tired administration with one with the energy and ideas to change Sutton for the better.