Councillor Linsey Cottington, Labour Group leader on Kingston Council, made these comments at the Council Budget Setting Meeting Tuesday 27 February 2018.
First of all, I would like to begin by praising all of our staff for working so hard on the No Stone Unturned major savings programme and identifying £22.2M of savings.
We are very fortunate to have a chief executive who has the experience and confidence to drive this programme.
The shame is it shouldn’t be happening. The government’s austerity programme has been proved to not be working and is shrinking the state for no good reason. Our local experience is that demand on local services across the board is increasing, not decreasing.
I am taking some comfort from the interim Chief Finance Officer’s comment at our last Treasury Committee meeting that: “The Budget is deliverable but it is absolutely going to be difficult.”
He has also put five conditions down for the successful delivery of this Budget and certainly it doesn’t allow for much wriggle room.
The challenge will be on the administration, now and after May 3rd, to make certain the Budget is delivered.
And of course every opposition councillor in this Chamber has a scrutinising role in this.
But most of my unhappiness is reserved for government policy.
It is well known that Governments often make their dislike of local government obvious but we are reaching new heights here. The financial straight jacket that we are in is unprecedented.
The Tory LGA Chair, Lord Porter has repeatedly said: “It is unfair to shift the burden of tackling a national crisis onto councils and their residents.”
I would put it stronger than that: This is a government that is constantly shifting the burden of increasing taxes, charges and service costs onto local councils while giving tax breaks to the rich and big business.
Here are just a few examples of what we are up against locally:
- a council debt of £12m in the SEN element of the Dedicated Schools Grant;
- we’re going into the third year of a gov’t imposed 1% reduction in council rents costing us millions of £s in lost rent over this period and stopping much needed council estate improvements dead in their tracks;
- an underfunded Kingston Hospital charging blue badge holders for car parking with plans to take £250K a year from disabled families;
- shrinking student numbers at Kingston University due to high student fees and government de-regulation of the sector
We are one of five social care councils across the country not raising our local council tax…in a local election year.
However, I cannot stand up here and say we should raise council tax because quite frankly the majority of people that I represent actually pay a disproportionate amount of their income in any increase compared to the rich. Too bad we can’t raise council tax just for those rich people in the biggest houses and who could well afford it.