Last night in the Council Chamber I had the honour, for the first time, of taking part in a full budget debate. For me it contained some surprises and was contentious.
My sympathies go to the twenty three employees of the Council who last night saw the controlling Conservative group take their jobs away.
I shall first explain the general timeline of the meeting before I go into details:
Present in the chamber were: -
- British National Party 2
- Labour Party13
- Conservative Party 16
There were enough Conservatives in the chamber to carry their budget.
The order of events was as follows: -
- The controlling Conservative group proposed their budget.
- The main opposition, Labour, immediately proposed their own counter budget. This was then debated at length and voted upon. BNP voted against (for reasons see below).
- The BNP alternative budget was proposed and voted down by both Labour and Conservatives (for this budgetary proposal see below).
- The Conservative budget was then debated at length. A vote was taken and this is the budget that was carried by only the Conservative members. BNP voted against (for reasons see below).
Labour’s alternative budget.
This alternative budget was handed out in chamber. I objected to: -
Item 1a and 1b) £40,000 savings in playground maintenance and property maintenance in parks.
Playgrounds and fences then mainly. Vandalism is up and no-one believes that it will go down suddenly. This item would make the playgrounds less attractive and possibly dangerous for the children.
Item 2) By reducing Town Centre management costs by a net £100,000.
This is pure aspiration. No-one can predict in advance how much can be saved, if anything, when opening a renegotiation.
Item 4) A general review of fees and charges setting a 3% increase except for car parks. Raises £60,400.
This will raise business rates, market stall rents, licensing fees and planning fees at a time when business, especially small businesses, needs some support. This will discourage town centre investment which we need in Nuneaton and Bedworth by way of regeneration.
Item 5) Raising the one hour charge for car parking and evening and Sunday parking to £1 and raising the two hour parking charge to £1.50. Raises £258,000.
Pure genius. A 25% increase to the motorist for an hours parking. The town centre car parks need more cars on them not less. This proposal would drive shoppers to alternate shopping areas of which there are many.
Item 7) Achieving a reorganisation and efficiency savings target of 1.5% of net budget. Saves £300,000.
Again, pure aspiration. To reduce this much from the net budget cannot be done without job losses. I wish it could but I have to live in the real world.
In summary: -
The itemised paragraphs above are the things that I spoke on in chamber relating to this budgetary proposal. The main objections.
The Labour Party alternative budget could not be said to balance because at least £400,000 of it was aspirational. Even if these figures could be achieved it is only possible with job losses.
Regeneration is a big theme for the whole of the Borough at the moment (not forgetting Bulkington). There are far too many empty shops in both towns and increasing both charges to businesses and motorists would stifle regeneration.
Preventing job losses and helping regeneration were the main aims of the evening for me. In conscience I could not support this alternative budget.
Controlling Conservative Party budget
The Conservative Party budget covers five full pages of the main agenda and a separate booklet. I objected to: -
From section (a)
Item 1) Bulky Refuse – Set £20 minimum charge plus £3 for each item over 5. Saving £5,000.
Several wards in the Borough, including my own ward of Barpool, are designated as super output areas (SOA’s) for benefit claims and low income families amongst others. The £15 charge was too high as it was. This 33% raise will not lead to a £5,000 increase in revenue because less people not more will use the service. Against any increase I asked has any provision been made for costs for clearing away the extra fly-tipping which will undoubtedly result.
Item 6) Funding the Town Centre Management growth bids in Table 6 of the report, total cost £20,000, from reserves for 2009/10 but ceasing the Town Centre Wardens service. Saving £50,000
Most of the £20,000 will be spent on additional street entertainment. We can live without that in these times.
Job Losses. The Town Centre Wardens service provides a valuable service to both residents and traders in keeping by assisting with work against graffiti, nuisance behaviour, cleansing and putting on events amongst other duties.
Item 8) By ceasing the Security service and market testing the cash collection service from car parks. Saving £80,000.
Up to 1,500 scrap vehicles were removed, community parks are patrolled as well as collecting the cash from the car parks and making sure that Council premises are secure at night.
Job losses. If the contract personnel will only perform the cash collection and building security who will take on the other responsibilities?
Item 10) By changing the way in which cash is collected at Nuneaton & Bedworth cash offices during the year. Saving £22,000.
Closing the collection points in the Council House and the Bedworth Area Office will lead to confusion for many residents. Experienced staff who have displayed many years loyalty will be lost. People will have to pay their rent and council tax at the main post office but they will not be able to ask any questions. For that they will have to walk across to the council house and ask at the front desk.
God help the people of Bedworth and Bulkington. No-one else seems to have considered where they will go!
Job Losses. 15 job losses identified to save £22,000! This could easily be avoided.
Item 12) By contracting out the Drain Clearance service. Saving £24,000.
This essential and much used service can only be provided at a lower cost by paying cheaper wages and restricting the service available. This is not acceptable.
Job Losses. Again, unnecessary. out of a budget approaching £20,000,000 we can find this money somewhere.
From section (b)
That the Street Cleansing budget be increased by £100,000.
Why? The Borough is not badly cleansed. The cleansing teams are rightly proud of their endeavours. In better times more may be acceptable but in these times it is not.
In Summary: -
The itemised paragraphs above are only the ones that I spoke on in chamber. The main objections if you will.
At least the Conservative budget balanced.
If the British National Party had voted for unnecessary job cuts we would not have slept well for a long time!
British National Party’s alternative budget
I would first like to say that as newly elected members in the chamber the BNP Councillors do not have the experience to write a full budget from the ground up. Officers have been very useful and much has been learnt in preparation for next year.
My focus in writing the BNP proposal was to preserve the 23 jobs without it costing others later on and to encourage regeneration of the town centres.
To this end I decided to re-arrange the Conservative budget to our own ends.
I proposed the following changes to the Conservative budget: -
|Item 1) £5,000 Cost||BNP would not increase the charge to remove bulky refuse to £20 plus £3 for each item over 5.|
|Item 6) £30,000 Cost. BNP would keep the wardens.||BNP would not fund town centre management growth bids £20,000 (entertainment mainly) and would not cease the Town Centre Wardens service. £50,000|
|Item 8) £80,000||BNP would not cease the Security Service and cash collection service from car parks.|
|Item 10) £22,000||BNP would not remove the cash collection offices from the council house and Bedworth area office.|
|Item 12) £24,000||BNP would not contract out the Drain Clearance service jobs.|
So in total we have to find £161,000
We would not spend the additional £100,000 on additional cleansing which the Conservative leader said ‘may’ lead to four jobs.
This Council has more than enough unallocated reserves to cover the extra £61,000.
In Summary: -
There you have it.
The first budget presented by the British National Party for Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council balances and would not lead to any job losses.