Cllr David Kendall's budget response

February 16, 2011 10:35 PM
By Cllr David Kendall

David Kendall

As the Leader has already said we are living in very difficult financial times. This budget is having to be set against a background of massive national debt which is affecting us all. I am sure the Labour member will seek to blame all this Council's woes on the policies of the Coalition government but even he cannot ignore the fact that this country has been left with a record deficit from Labour's 13 years in power and the country is now borrowing £400 million every day.

"Last week many of my Liberal Democrat colleagues from around the country signed a letter to the Times about the cuts and Eric Pickles handling of his local government department. I fully support what it was saying and I, along with many other Lib Dem Leaders, have now added my signature. The Liberal Democrat group that I lead strongly believe the reduction of central government grant should be spread over four years and believe the "front loading" of these cuts is the wrong way of doing things.

"Eric Pickles may be the MP for this area but he and his department have certainly not done us any favours with the 16.8% reduction in formula grant which is making Brentwood's the worst settlement in Essex and one of the worst settlements in the country.

"As the Leader says we have a budget gap of £2.26 million, not only that we have £274k shortfall in fees and charges, and our parking revenues are down.

"As the Leader knows we had major concerns regarding the way the budget consultation was conducted. We would have liked every house in the Borough to have received a consultation leaflet and we believe the leaflet itself should have clearly shown the money currently spent on services to enable residents to make a much more informed decision.

"As we have already stated we have a number of concerns about this budget. The rent increase has given Brentwood the unwelcome tag of having the highest rent increase in Essex. We are genuinely concerned about the 36% of our tenants who are not on any form of housing benefit as in our view these increases will hit them very hard.

"We are concerned about the level of borrowing that is already being put down on the Town Hall. The figure of £3m over three years is already higher than the projected shortfall we were given in the papers at the Town Hall meeting last week and over the months and years ahead I predict it will rise even higher.

"The Town Hall project has been sold by the administration as a way of cutting running costs. However we are very concerned about the cost of servicing the Town Hall debt. With our reserves standing at £2.75m after the VAT windfall the question has to be asked why aren't we using some of that money to fund the Town Hall changes.

"I am disappointed our proposed increase in fees and charges wasn't even debated because by having an overall pro rata increase of 2% instead of 1% it would have meant another £45k of projected revenue for the Council. This extra revenue would have enabled us to give Thames Chase £9.5k and the local CAB £10k towards the cost of another debt advisor. We could have also given financial support to the summer out of hours service and ensured more parking enforcement in the evenings and at weekends.

"If ever our retailers and businesses in the Town Centre needed a boost it is a now. We predict the closure of the William Hunter Way car park will have a major impact on our retailers. Whilst the park & ride proposals might help, we need to do all we can to make visiting the town through all the construction work as an attractive proposition as possible. Our proposals on parking which were costed by the finance officers would have seen the cost of parking for the first hour reduced by half and meant that the parking burden was shared more fairly between the daytime and the night time economy. Sadly they were turned down.

"Our proposals to streamline the Councils panels and commitees by merging the Policy & Business & Economic Panels would have not only saved this Council £10k and speeded up the decision making process but with the Leader as Chair it would have sent a clear signal to the business community that their welfare was a major priority.

"This budget leaves a lot of question marks about shared services. It seems likely we are going to share our waste collection services with Basildon and Castle Point. What next??

"To sum up we welcome the 0% increase in Council tax and fully support the reductions in members allowances however we cannot support this budget for the many reasons I have outlined."