Tories are "papering over the cracks"

February 24, 2010 7:16 PM
Cllr David Kendall

Cllr David Kendall

Annual budget response from Cllr David Kendall, Leader of the Opposition on Brentwood Borough Council:

This is a very disappointing budget for the residents of Brentwood. The Conservatives' 2.89% Council tax increase is one of the highest in Essex and their cuts in services will be felt by many residents, particularly the elderly and the most vulnerable members of our community.

Their plans to scrap the pest control service, slash discretionary grants and charge for long stay parking in the Town Hall Car Park are all backward steps and show the Tories really have lost the plot when it comes to managing the borough's finances.

I thank Peter McKenzie and his team for all the hard work they have put into trying to make some sense of the Borough's finances, but it highlights once again the ridiculous decision to spend £275,000 on two temporary finance officers before he was appointed. The Council could, and should, have employed a dedicated full time officer from the start rather than spending the equivalent of a 5.5% increase in council tax on the two temporary appointments.

The council have just received a £829,000 VAT refund which is the equivalent of the council of being given a "get out of jail free card". Without that windfall the reserves would be in a very sorry state and we would have had a very different budget indeed.

Mr McKenzie uses the term "High Risk" a number of times in the report and for us that term sums up the whole budget. A lot of it is high risk.

We are being asked to endorse a Capital Programme which is supported by £0.5m of borrowing rather than using capital receipts. However, when you look at the detail it is very woolly on a number of fronts. Certain projects have been given a Priority 2 rating which basically means there is no timescale attached to them. We have been left with a large wish list that will probably never happen.

The report highlights two capital schemes to protect and increase car park income. Presumably one of these schemes is the one featured in the Brentwood Gazette. No information has been given to members of the opposition on this scheme and there is no announcement tonight.

We put forward a simple constructive proposal on parking that would have made a real difference to Brentwood residents and our hard pressed traders but sadly the administration chose to dismiss it out of hand.

Probably because it wasn't their idea, So much for having the interests of Brentwood at heart.

The Conservatives also agreed, in principle, to:

  • Cease production of "Vision" and "Vision for Business"
  • Reduce the Discretionary Grant
  • Discontinue the Pest Control Service
  • Charge for long term stays in the Town Hall Car Park.
  • Introduce above inflation increases in fees and charges.

The figure of 2.89% Council tax mean Brentwood is going to be one of the highest in Essex adding to the Tory record of:

  • Failing to get the borough council's accounts signed off
  • Mislaying £633,000 of residents money
  • Spending £275,000 on two temporary finance officers
  • Being rated the poorest performing Council in Essex

This desperate budget is designed to try and paper over the cracks.

The Liberal Democrats will be watching and challenging the administration every step of the way and opposing and exposing when we feel it is the right thing to do as an opposition group. But, when we believe it is in Brentwood's best interests, we will support them.

However we are not able to support this budget.