Sunday, 26 November 2017

My thoughts on the UK budget and the Council's investment programme

The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s latest budget has been slammed by a very diverse range of bodies and individuals.

Philip Hammond has been criticised for failing to address the crisis in social care and for rejecting pleas from the NHS for an emergency injection of £4 billion. Serious concerns have also been raised that the “lion’s share” of the increased investment in housing was not geared towards the provision of much-needed affordable homes.

In addition, there has been considerable anger at the location of capital projects supported by Philip Hammond. The Western Morning News featured a picture of Mr Hammond laughing at the opposition’s response to his budget alongside the headline: “Budget that neglects West is no joke, Chancellor.”

The newspaper and many others went on to claim that the South West had been snubbed, with more investment going to areas with the UK Government’s favoured “metro-mayors.”

The one exception to this analysis was the confirmation that Cornwall Council’s request for £79 million towards a link road between St Austell and the A30 had been granted.

This announcement, which has been extremely well-received in mid Cornwall, came in the same week that councillors on the unitary authority voted to support a large capital programme entitled: “An Investment Programme for Cornwall: delivering homes, jobs and infrastructure for communities and places.”

There is considerable logic which underpins this local programme with an initial budget of £70 million that is projected to grow to £600 million during the life of the scheme.

Its supporters have argued that intervening in construction would give the unitary authority greater control over the quality of those developments that it is involved with and could, for example, increase the amount of affordable housing.

They have also made it clear that the developments will, in the long-term, generate a financial return to go towards the funding of those basic council services that have been starved of cash by central government cuts.

Though I could understand the rationale for the programme, I have had negative experiences of “place-shaping” in my local area and therefore had a range of questions about how it would operate.

In a number of formal meetings, I queried how the sites for intervention would be selected, how the local elected members would be able to influence the programme and ensure that the Council did not invest in proposals that were not supported by local communities.

Sadly, these queries were not adequately addressed by the officers and senior councillors that I questioned. My frustrations were undoubtedly heightened because of the manner in which the leadership of the unitary authority had commenced work on a “strategic narrative” for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly without any input from the wider democratic membership of Cornwall Council.

For these reasons, I was unable to vote to support the programme.

[This is my article in this week's Cornish Guardian].

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