Yesterday’s budget debate at Cornwall Council was a total shambles. The Conservative and independent administration put forward a modest 1.97% increase in council tax – which would equate to a rise of 41p a week per band D property.
Both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative groups put forward amendments for no council increase.
The Liberal Democrat amendment was debated first. Councillors were told that it would lead to 135 job losses and cuts to a wide range of council services. It was a poor and damaging amendment, and was put forward by the Lib Dems specifically to be voted down by the other groups on the authority so they could crow about attempting to keep council tax down on their election leaflets.
But the Lib Dems were outflanked by the Conservatives who backed the amendment – it was opposed by Independent, MK and Labour members.
I am outraged at what happened and I will be commenting in more detail later today. But for now, my contribution to the debate was as follows:
This is an important day for this Council. And I believe we should – collectively – be doing what is best for
And we should be doing the best we can to safeguard the public services that we provide.
I have listened to what prominent members of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups have had to say; I have listened to their arguments for no rise in council tax – and it fills me with dread.
I am saddened that the priority of the two main groups on this council is political posturing and what goes in their election leaflets.
I am particularly saddened at the extremely short-sighted approach to this year’s budget debate.
This cannot be allowed to be a political game, and it disturbs me that members from both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have privately told me that freezing council tax was the wrong thing to do – but that they would be voting for it because of the election.
But they have also said that they will be voting for the freeze because of the election and/or the machinations of their opponents.
That is shameful.
We should be doing what is right for
And that is why the MK group will not support either amendment calling for no
rise in council tax.
The amendments are damaging.
We have no intention of voting for (i) the removal of the communications budget, (ii) the destruction of the localism team, (iii) yet more staff redundancies or (iv) cuts to member budgets which support small community budgets.
I would ask that members focus on the big picture today. The Coalition has slashed our grant funding – for which both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats – have to take equal responsibility.
And when councillors address the scale of the cuts – they often quote the so-called “savings target” of £170 million we are expected to achieve over a four-year period which we are only half-way through.
But the reality is that this level of cuts – if you add in the extra assaults on local government budgets such as the localisation of council tax – it equates to a reduction in spend of £546 million over four years.
Your government has reduced the “spending power” of this authority by £546 million.
That is the key point. The Coalition Government has reduced the spending power of this authority by £546 million.
In an email from Cllr Ferguson which I read this morning, she blames the profligate spending of the previous government for the cuts.
Indeed, we hear much from Coalition politicians about the need to cut the deficit, to reduce debt, and for everyone to – what is it you say – “share the pain.”
But the cuts to local government funding have been truly disproportionate – the cuts have been above and beyond what other government departments have experienced.
And you have been largely silent on this key issue – preferring to support the Coalition in its ideological attempts to dismantle local government.
Now I would not be foolish enough to stand here and claim that there were not efficiencies to be made from 2010 onwards, but the level of cuts are damaging in the extreme.
And that is why we have problems with so many of our budget envelopes and why this administration cannot find the money to fund public toilets, to repaint double yellow lines, or resurface pot-holed roads, or even properly maintain its own buildings.
We should be sending a strong message back to the Government that the cuts are too deep and need to be reversed.
And members of this authority should know better than to grandstand on the issue of council tax.
The MK group has had the issue with the detail contained within all budgets from this administration, but today we need to focus on looking ahead and shoring up the base budget as best we can.
I appeal to everyone in this chamber to put politics to one side and to retreat from the gamesmanship that has dominated the last few days.
We will be backing the Cabinet recommendation and re-affirming our commitment to the delivery of quality public services.