Budget council: Conservatives say services can improve without tax rise

Posted On 01 Mar 2013 at 9:19 am

Brighton and Hove council tax payers do not need to pay more council tax to protect frontline services, a leading Conservative said last night (Thursday 28 February).

Councillor Ann Norman said: “The tired old dogmatic approach of tax and spend has held sway for far too long.

“This budget, like any budget, is all about choices.

“The Green administration has made its choice to raise council tax.

“The Labour group, after months of sitting on the fence, has finally chosen to support their left-wing allies.”

She was speaking at Brighton Town Hall as Brighton and Hove City Council voted through a rise in council tax of almost 2 per cent.

Councillor Ann Norman

Councillor Norman said that the whole budget was “predicated on a basic misunderstanding by the Green administration, namely that the only way to protect frontline services is to raise council tax”.

“Let me state categorically that the Conservative group does not accept this assumption. We do not accept it because it is simply not true.

“Councils up and down the country have shown that by thinking outside of the box, by being prepared to look at other providers, by showing ambition in working with other organisations, services can be maintained – even improved – at the same time as keeping the council tax low.

“I could give many examples of councils who have been able to achieve this but given the time constraints today I would like to focus on just one.

“The two parties opposite didn’t much like it when we started talking about Barnet at our last council meeting so let’s look at another council – Hammersmith and Fulham.

“I know that Councillor Kitcat probably doesn’t think he has much to learn from anyone given his recent nomination in the prestigious local government Oscars – the Daniel Day Lewis of the council world?

“But I would strongly suggest that he takes a trip up to London to see what they are doing as members of our group have done.

“Since the Conservatives took over the running of that council from the Labour Party in 2007, council tax has been cut – yes cut – by 17 per cent, saving residents £667.

“And contrary to what all the doom-mongers on the left predicted, almost all measures of resident satisfaction with their council services have gone up.

“They have announced a further 3 per cent cut this year and it is worth hearing what Councillor Nick Botterill, the leader of the council, said when announcing this: ‘A radical revolution has seen the council transformed from a cumbersome and bureaucratic place into a lean and dynamic organisation.

“‘From a lower cost base, we are now able to respond rapidly to the needs of our customers, just like the best companies in the private sector do.’

“Other public bodies wanting to follow our lead need to know the top three factors to improving frontline services while delivering savings are to

  • strip out duplicated layers of management
  • reduce debt repayments to the banks and
  • drive down accommodation costs and overheads

“It is interesting that when we put forward a notice of motion at the last council meeting suggesting a similar approach it was roundly rejected by the two parties of the left – interesting, but probably not surprising!

“With determination and commitment it can be done.

“The tired old dogmatic approach of tax and spend has held sway for far too long in too many councils.

“But there are a growing number of shining beacons of light – Westminster, Windsor and Maidenhead, Wandsworth, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Lancashire and neighbouring East and West Sussex to name just a few.

“They have all taken up the mantle of low-tax efficiency and it is high time we did the same.

Councillor Jason Kitcat

“This budget, like any budget, is all about choices. The Green administration has made its choice to raise council tax. The Labour group, after months of sitting on the fence, has finally chosen to support their left-wing allies. And we have made our choices.

“We don’t believe that it is possible to justify an increase in spending on council communications or travellers services while at the same time asking residents to dip into their pockets and pay more council tax.

“We don’t believe it is right that human resources should be exempt from making any savings in the coming year when children’s services and adult social care are both having their budgets reduced by 6 per cent.

“We don’t think that the council can continue to resource a Rolls-Royce scrutiny function now we have a full committee system.

“We don’t think that there is justification for spending £140,000 of council taxpayers’ money on a European office.

“And we certainly don’t think that residents want to see £¼ million of their hard-earned money funding trade union officials at the council when the trade unions can very well afford to fund these people themselves.

“These are the choices that we have made and which have informed the amendments you see before you today.

“As Conservatives our first instinct is, wherever possible, to put money back in the pockets of our council taxpayers.

“The first instinct of our friends opposite is always to keep hold of it and spend it for them.

“It is the ‘we know what is best for you’ syndrome.”

She said that one amendment – to freeze council tax in exchange for £2.4 million extra from the government over two years – would save residents in a band D home £70 a year.

She said: “That is £70 that we want to allow residents to keep and which could be spent in the local economy rather than being spent by the Green administration on their pet projects.

“At a time when bills across the board are rising – gas, electricity, petrol, food, insurance – this freeze would be much-needed relief for residents on low to middle incomes who would be hit hardest by the proposed increase and would send out the strong message that the council is on their side.

“And what do we need to do to deliver this freeze?  For an extra £780,000 worth of savings – that’s just one thousandth of the council’s total budget – we would unlock £2.4 million in council tax freeze grant over two years that the government has offered our residents.

“To spell that out more clearly, that’s £2.4 million that the Green and Labour parties are proposing to reject that could be going back into the local economy.

“But of course the Greens have a history of this as they tried to turn down £3 million last year.

“Residents simply will not understand this logic.

“We are proposing that the bulk of the £780,000 needed to deliver our council tax freeze amendment comes from extending the voluntary severance scheme.

“This year’s scheme has been oversubscribed more than three times over and so we are therefore proposing that an extra 18 staff should be given voluntary redundancy on top of the 100 or so proposed by the Green Administration.

Councillor Gill Mitchell

“Out of a total staff headcount of around 9,000 we don’t feel that this will have a detrimental impact on frontline service delivery.”

She added: “The massive 70 per cent increases in the cost of permits for traders and businesses that were forced through last year were in our view a completely unjustified attack on our local trades people.

“Let’s be clear. The extra money that has been raised by this hike – some £272,000 – is a tax on local business.

“The Labour group disgracefully failed to support us last year when we tried to reverse this despite campaigning vociferously against the rises.

“And so I would call on them again to support us in helping the local traders who are the lifeblood of the city’s economy.”

Councillor Norman said that another Tory amendment sought to reverse cuts to the children’s music service at the expense of the budget for dealing with travellers.

She also called for cuts to public toilets in Brighton and Hove to be reversed, adding: “Members may recall the Labour Party’s ‘Leave Our Loos Alone’ campaign from last year.”

She called on Labour to support an amendment to keep the toilets in Norton Road, Hove, open all week.

And she urged her fellow councillors to increase rather than freeze funding for Community and Voluntary Sector grants.

Councillor Norman said: “The freeze that the administration is proposing to apply next year is a real-terms cut in funding for charities when, with donations generally falling, they can ill afford it.”

She added that Councillor Kitcat had spoken recently at his national party conference about his experiences of being in charge of a council administration which he likened to being captain of a ship.

She said: “Well I have to say that the Good Ship Kitcat seems at the moment to be marooned in the Doldrums, rudderless and with a crew that has little idea of how to plot a course to safety.

“And it now seems that you have now been joined on your ill-fated voyage by First Mate (Gill) Mitchell and her Labour colleagues.

“I know that your colleague Councillor (Christopher) Hawtree is fond of quoting literary references.

“So I will take a leaf out of his book by saying that I hope for your sake, Councillor Kitcat, that you don’t suffer the same fate as Captain Bligh on the Bounty.”


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