We always welcome a Letter to the Editor to share with our readers – unsurprisingly they don’t always reflect the views of this publication. If you have something you’d like to share, get in touch and of course, your considered comments are welcome below. This from Isle of Wight Green Party councillor for Ryde East, Cllr Michael Lilley. Ed
I am writing to highlight that the ruling Conservative administration of Isle of Wight Council, will claim that the opposition parties do not have any legal and realistic alternatives to their proposed budget 2018/19.
In my case as a Green Party Councillor, this is not the truth. In January 2018, I was given draft budget details in my capacity as a co-leader of an opposition group. I took this responsibility extremely seriously.
Near silence from Leader and Deputy Leader
On 11th January, I sent detailed questions asking for the impact assessments/background rationale on all the proposed cuts to the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council, and the Chief Executive.
To this date I have not received any written response, other than an email dated the 22nd February regarding one of the 30 plus questions.
Alternative and legal budget
This has made it extremely difficult for me to put forward an alternative budget as I have been denied the relevant information. My aim was to work out a detailed alternative that used finance available from national social investment funds to establish an Island Social Impact Bond with a value of £8M over five years.
I have not been deterred and have submitted an alternative and legal budget which reinstates over £1.1m of cuts that hit the most vulnerable and lays the way to bring in this available new money.
Smoke and mirrors
However, there is one very confusing smoke and mirrors aspect of the Conservative’s budget, that I have tried to figure out for my Ryde East residents so that I can explain it to them in simple language and unfortunately I am defeated.
I just do not understand how IW Council can raise the Council Tax by 6% with 3% ring-fenced for Adult Social Care (£2.2M new income) with £500,000 additional funding from the Government but still cut the same budget by £3.8M. I have been sent a variety of very complex explanations, but still do not get it, other than to me the real cut was £6.5M and we the Council Tax Payer have reduced this to £3.8M through paying more for less.
£100M investment now a ‘dead duck’
The Conservative Administration announced within their Corporate Plan in 2017, they were going to borrow £100M to invest in commercial property to bring in new income of up to £5M to protect services.
At the time, I opposed this as it was incredibly risky as reported in many investor journals. Hey-ho, at the last Cabinet Meeting in 2018 it was announced that it was now a ‘dead duck’ and too risky! Nothing was suggested to go in its place.
I have also continually raised the issue highlighted by Portsmouth University that the Isle of Wight has an annual shortfall of £6.5M compared to mainland authorities. Until, we get an Island Equality and Status Act, we will continue to be side-lined by the Conservative Government.
Until, we have this £6.5M from the Government and powers to generate income more creatively we will always be the forgotten poor relation Island.
Budget papers too late for ASC scrutiny
Local Authorities have Scrutiny Committees to look into the Smoke and Mirror scenarios but hey-ho, the Adult Social Care and Health Policy and Scrutiny Committee’s January meeting was too early to get the budget details so nothing was scrutinised by the relevant committee in regard to this £6.5M cut which is now £3.8M, and as a member of this committee, I was denied the opportunity to put forward my questions.
So you and I are not the wiser. In the meantime, the poorest and most vulnerable of us will be the biggest losers.
Thinking out of the box
I am sure I will be accused along with others in the opposition for not coming up with viable and sustainable solutions to this funding crisis, but I can only do this if I have all the information and Scrutiny was allowed to properly question the decision makers.
The IW Green Party’s amendment to the 2018/19 budget is a start to show that we have determination to get to the truth despite the smoke and mirrors and show we can think out of the box and find solutions even with smoke in our eyes.