Following last night’s full council budget meeting and our earlier publication of the Independent budget amendment, below are the notes that Conservative council leader David Pugh used last night when making his budget speech to members.
Cllr Geoff Lumley told us that he did not have a speech prepared, instead speaking
off the cuff from a few word prompts, so we won’t be running anything from him. Ed
[Please note this is not an exact script of what I said. The bullet points below were written to guide me through my presentation.]
Thank you for opportunity to present budget proposals. My first task is to introduce the majority group budget plans, and then to set out why I believe that these proposals deserve to receive majority support in this Chamber tonight.
Background“¢ This has been a difficult year for the local authority, and for those who work within in.
“¢ It has also been a difficult year for our community here on the Island.
“¢ Faced with major funding reductions coupled with significant demographic pressures.
“¢ The Coalition Government has a determined strategy to reduce the deficit which they inherited from the Labour Government, and local government forms a key part of that.
“¢ Scale of budget gap meant that, however much we tried, frontline services could not be immune from some reductions.
“¢ We did focus on back office, efficiencies and staffing costs – with over 76% coming from this area.
“¢ But frontline services were affected. We know that these decisions were easy – and many people didn’t agree with them.
“¢ But we know that the majority of people understand why such decisions had to be made.
“¢ If we didn’t balance our budget and put the council’s finances in order, we wouldn’t be able to turn our focus towards the economy and the future of the Island.
“¢ If we had put off decisions for another day, we would be facing a far greater budget gap this year.
“¢ Painful though it was, we had to take decisions to cut our cloth accordingly.
“¢ We have done that, and the LA is far more resilient as a result.
“¢ However the past year has been a journey, as we have worked with the community to develop alternative models of service delivery.
“¢ And it has been a learning process. We haven’t always had the solution right away, and we have had to introduce flexibility to ensure that community initiatives had the greatest chance of success.
“¢ I hope that we have demonstrated that during the course of the year, with our flexible approach on Waterside Pool, the libraries and the community bus initiative. We have adjusted our plans, the timescales and the arrangements to meet the emerging needs of the community in delivering these projects.
“¢ And we also know that the community didn’t always agree with the approach we have taken – but in the main the political disagreements have been put to one side and the community have shown immense leadership and commitment to overseeing these services.
Their response has been remarkable. The community – often supported by parish councils – have made real strides and thousands of hours have been put in by volunteers. That in itself is an achievement and should not be understated or dismissed.
“¢ With the Council’s own house now in order, we can redouble our efforts in support of the local economy.
“¢ Full Council and Cabinet have already agreed to employment opportunities for young people and the Economic Improvement Fund.
“¢ With regard to the latter, I would like to update members. As I said earlier, we have received bids for a total of 87 different projects from 30 of our 33 parish councils. A huge amount of work has taken place across the Island and some very worthwhile schemes have come forward. I would like to thank all those members who have been involved in the development of schemes – I know first hand what a difference this is making.
“¢ I am pleased to announce that the total economic spend that is likely to be generated is in excess of £423,000. This takes into account the match funding from parishes and other organisations, which in a number of cases exceeds the money from the IW Council – such is the level of commitment.
“¢ As things stand, only 4 of the 87 projects are likely to be rejected – although we are
seeking clarification on a number of others. Assuming this information is received, some £200k of the £250k will be allocated. We will then give consideration as to whether any of the remaining allocation can be used for another economic-related projects.
“¢ Returning to the budget plans, I will be asking Cllr Brown to outline some of the wider economic imperatives associated with these budget plans – which have been widely trailed. They are set out on pages B6 to B8 of the papers in front of members.
“¢ Not just in the economy, but in other key areas such as supporting older and vulnerable adults and keeping children safe, we are reaffirming our support for prioritising resources for these residents – and the level of proposed expenditure in these areas speak for themselves.
“¢ Cllr Mazillius’s report provides an update on the support for disabled people, which has sadly been misrepresented in the media over recent days. We’ve already heard from Cllr Cousins this evening about some of our success with young people (NEETs) and also our work with children in care. These continue to be major areas of priority.
“¢ Appendix 11 to the report sets out the proposed areas for savings for 2012/13, and crucially also sets them out for 2013/14. The latter is particularly important as the one-off nature of the council tax freeze grant means that we should set out how the additional gap in the following year will be addressed.
“¢ I should again stress that these proposed savings, which have been subject to a considerable amount of scrutiny over recent weeks and months, are principally focused on back office and efficiencies – with over 90% coming from this area. However, once again, there is some impact on frontline services – however much we have sought to minimise it.
“¢ The alternative budget proposals have sought to adjust some of these, and I will leave my colleagues to respond to some of their suggested changes.
“¢ I would also like to confirm that the IW Council will be taking up the council tax freeze grant, and in doing so will fulfil the commitment made to the electorate in 2009, on which the majority of members were elected, to freeze council tax for two years. We know that this will go some way to easing the burden on households when other bills are rising. This is of course coupled with parking charges being kept at the same level for the fourth year running.
Choice between proposals
“¢ I would now like to address why I believe that the majority group proposals offer the best package for the next financial year and beyond.
“¢ As I have already said, I do not believe that we should be taking up the one-off council tax freeze grant unless we can show how the gap created by it will be addressed in the subsequent financial year. Ours are the only proposals that have set out how this would be achieved. My advice to members here this evening is not to accept the council tax freeze grant unless you are prepared to spell out how the subsequent impact of this will be achieved. Therefore my advice to Cllr Lumley and Cllr Stephens is that they should be proposing a council tax increase of 2.5% and rejecting the freeze grant, unless they can produce an additional set of savings for 2013/14 – which they have failed to do. As their proposals stand, there is an unaccounted for £1.8m in their plans – with an additional £417k added to this gap due to their additional areas of proposed revenue expenditure for this year. I reiterate, the council tax freeze grant should only be taken up if you have a plan for what happens after it.
“¢ Furthermore, there are various areas of savings which we feel are undeliverable – such as the money on Coastguard partnership, the parking permit income and the costs associated with waste procurement – which collectively could push the budget gap for next year up even more significantly. As you know, the Section 151 Officer has highlighted a number of concerns around these areas – which should be taken seriously.
“¢ As members will recall, last year we studied the Independent Group’s proposals carefully and were able to take some of their affordable and deliverable ideas on board in our final proposals – and we attributed this to them.
“¢ It is very much a matter of regret that we have not been able to do so this year. Whilst there are some ideas in the Independent Group’s proposals which are worthy of further exploration, there simply has not been the time between their publication on Monday evening and now to fully assess their validity. I have even sought clarification, in this short space of time, from the Independent Group Leader, on a number of aspects – and he has declined to answer my questions.
“¢ Members, I do not believe that we should be voting on proposals that do not stand up to the test of full examination and proper consideration. The majority group proposals have faced this over the last few months – it is a shame that the Independents they didn’t publish these proposals earlier for us to look at properly.
“¢ Finally, I do feel that there are some particularly reckless elements of their proposals – slashing the PFI costs in the final year of preparation, cutting the investment in superfast broadband – and I won’t start a debate here about whether mobile composting toilets are better than refurbished toilets.
“¢ But what I will say is that this is not the way to engage in the budget process. We have sadly been unable to repeat the approach we took last year, in looking at their proposals properly. What I will say, in the spirit of co-operation, is that we will look in more detail about some of their proposals during the course of the year to see whether they can be taken forward in due course. Cllr Brown will touch on some aspects of this.
“¢ In then turn to Cllr Lumley’s proposal. We simply cannot support a raid on the pension pot, or the raid on the agency staff costs in this quick fix solution to the budget situation. His plans just put off difficult decisions for another year – like he tried to do last February – and we would be facing the last year’s savings again now.
Â I do believe that the majority group proposals are affordable, deliverable and most importantly set the Island up for a bright future. Many of the initiatives contained within it are not about delivery in the next 12 months – but are sowing the seeds of future economic prosperity.
I am pleased that so many elements of these proposals have been endorsed in the alternative budget proposals, and the consensus we have achieved over our ambitious plans for the Solent Ocean Energy Centre, opportunities for young people, bringing forward employment land, the Destination Management Organisation for tourism – and many other longer-term economic initiatives. I just hope that I can persuade other members here this evening not to put our Highways PFI initiative at risk, not to undermine superfast broadband and not to put us at risk of procuring a weak waste contract – given what we have suffered in the past.
Only the majority group proposals reaffirm our support for all these vital plans for the Island’s economy and its future, and I urge all members to vote for them.