Bad Budget for Basildon
Transcript of Gavin's speech to the Basildon Full Council at Budget setting for 2017/2018...
Thank you Mr. Mayor,
Labour remembers well how Cllr Sullivan finished his Budget speech last year on a peroration; about how the council is in a strong place to cope with a massive Tory-imposed structural deficit.
This year we are told that the Tories had been fantastic at not slashing services in our borough but that they had been prudent.
It was then and is now, fake news at its Basildon best.
Tonight abstract spreadsheets and figures become people’s lives, people’s services, people’s communities. So try telling...
People in Pitsea who lost their pool.
Our elderly residents who lost their hot meal services.
Our former staffers who lost their jobs.
The public who call streetcare but get no response and are left to live in forgotten estates by a Tory administration who barely remember that life exists south of the A127.
The public who see a Tory promotional team, disguised as a marketing and communications department, promoting pictures of the Leader standing outside new home that are neither social housing nor affordable to children and grandchildren of men and women who has lived in Basildon all their lives.
Or the vulnerable people who rely on Careline but which has been snatched away from them by the nasty party this month.
Try telling all of them that nothing has changed and everything is rosy.
Again tonight we see residents told that they are continuing to get a great deal, so just put up and shut up but a Tory Party that is weak locally, hemorrhaging support and split under the leadership of Phil Turner.
And what is the response? What is the grand plan tonight?
It is this; a Budget that makes for yet more grim reading.
A budget that asks the public to:
Pay more council tax and get less council services.
Pay more for police and get fewer police stations and PCSOs on the streets.
Pay more for social care but leave more and more disabled and older people to rot in hospital or at home without basic care needs being met.
A Budget that seeks to raise council tax by 3.5%.
A Budget that outlines a £10m structural deficit over the next three years.
A Budget that says in just two years’ time, we need to GIVE BACK more than half a million pound to the Government.
A Budget that has no strategy on business rate retention and instead calls on Councillors to sign off on a new funding framework that’s foundation is built on hundreds of millions of pounds of debt, risk and gamble – in fact, it is so bad, not even Gordon Brown would have signed off on the plan!
Then of course added to the mix, we have the issue of Brexit, the New Homes Bonus and the sweetheart deals for the marginals, all designed to allow this feeble collection of incompetents to rally around and cling onto power for dear life.
Let us be clear; it isn’t the Committee System that is bankrupting Basildon Council, it is the Conservative Party that is bankrupting Basildon Council.
Mr. Mayor we believe that you cannot empower local government when you impoverish local government. That has been the story of the last seven years for Basildon Council and Basildon residents and this Budget just bears that out for all to see.
Let me begin with the issue of council tax, which will rise for the second year in a row by 2% locally, but by even more because of the increases in social care and policing precepts respectively.
This marks the furthering of an ideological shift from a Tory government that has a fixation on borrowing and a fixation on misleading the public about deficit reduction.
For seven years we were told that freezing council tax was a must. Any rise in council tax would be bad. That despite a 64% cut in grant, it didn’t matter, we would survive and services would be unaffected.
Now we know that they got it wrong. Locally, regionally and nationally.
The country’s deficit hasn’t been paid off by 2015. It won’t be paid off until 2021 and instead the Tories in Whitehall have imposed a new deficit on the council that amounts to more than £10m by the end of the parliament.
So what has the pain been for? What good has come of any of the cut backs that we mentioned?
And now the plan is to double down on cutbacks. No revision in the Autumn State in November to departmental spending in this round, meaning councils get £0 more, despite heading over the cliff.
On the Tories watch, taxes will rise to pay for seven years of gross mismanagement of our finances.
And for our residents this tax rise is more bad news at a time when Brexit has led to job insecurity at some of our major employers.
Inflation has risen for the first time in years.
The average house price in Basildon is now over the £300,000 mark.
Prices are rising in our shops.
The costs of living are rising.
And your train tickets from C2C and Greater Anglia are now costing well in excess of £4,000 a year.
And now to rub salt into our hardworking residents’ wounds, another Tory tax rise which runs in parallel with diminishing public services.
Whatever way you look at this, Basildon residents are let down by out-of-touch Conservative politicians locally, regionally and nationally.
Never again should the Basildon public trust the Tories on tax.
Mr. Mayor, as an authority, business rate retention currently stands at £5.3 million a year. That’s all that we are allowed to recoup.
When the Tories needed businesses’ vote in 2015 they promised 100% retention of business rates for local councils.
This was designed to give assurances to business that the new model of financing local authorities and districts like Basildon would give rise to improvements in local infrastructure and the upskilling of the labour market that would lead to greater competition and prosperity for the businesses that call Basildon their home.
Council officers were then tasked with forecasting budgets that included 100% business rate retention.
But their task was made nigh on impossible by a complete lack of detail from the government on what this would actually mean for a borough such as Basildon.
12 months ago I stood here and told council that in order to plug the gap in our structural deficit we would require 20 new businesses on the size and scale of Fords who would contribute £500,000 a year to our council’s resources.
In the 12 months since, how many businesses on the size and scale of Fords have opened their doors in our borough? 0.
And what's more, just last week, the department for communities and local government went back out again to consult on business rate retention because they do not even have an agreed delivery model in place.
Mr. Mayor, it sounds complicated but it’s pretty simple; Right now, the Tories have not got a clue how councils such as Basildon will be funded in just 2 years’ time.
And given the Brexit vote, it would be remiss of me not to allude to our foreign endeavors.
Because of course, I should point out, given that we are now embarking on this brave new world of global free trade, where, as Ken Clarke said, “nice men, like President Trump, are positively impatient to abandon their protectionist principles” to forge trading links with places like Basildon.
That in all of our foreign trips to the Indian sub-continent and far-east Asia, (the cost of which is buried so far into this document that it’s about as impossible to figure out as a Donald Trump press conference) there has been virtually NO return on investment to our business rates portfolio in Basildon.
The result for our residents and our business is a borough on hold.
A giant pause button pressed on innovation, opportunity and meaningful investment in that same infrastructure, skills and people that both businesses and voters were promised.
Never again should the Basildon public trust the Tories on business.
NEW HOMES BONUS
Mr. Mayor, in the last fortnight the Tories have talked tough on housing.
It has been a first class example of alternative facts in action.
These same Tory MPs and Councillors, who find themselves routinely rolling over to big developers are now lecturing the public on a ‘broken housing market’.
I don’t need lectures on housebuilding from a Tory Party that has failed miserably to provide homes to people in this borough.
Mr. Mayor, it is the Labour Party, that has the greatest record on house building.
The town that we stand in today, would not have been created if it were not for the radically revolutionary post-war Labour government of Atlee that created the new towns; that invested in council housing under Wilson and that introduced the decent home standard under Tony Blair.
The lectures from Tories who do not believe in social housing, who do not believe in the state’s role in providing residents with social housing, is more bluster and will lead to no action.
Because let’s be clear; we know here in Basildon that is the housing market is broken, the public are in no doubt which political party broke it and which political party will fix it.
Clue, Mr. Mayor, it won’t be one led by Theresa Maybe.
I say this with confidence, because the new homes bonus that council is asked to opine on this evening, negatively impacts on this borough.
Another example of Tory reform in Whitehall, implemented by Tory puppets in Basildon that translates to a 0.4% growth target that will not be met this year, next year, the year after or the year after that.
Or in any year that the developers are able to run rings around the Tories in Basildon.
Empty promises on social housing from this administration, whether it be through Sempra homes or through the local plan, no serious strategy for building the houses, for Basildon’s founding generations’ children or grandchild to live in.
Just a pick ‘n’ mix approach under the guise of Sempra homes that is supposed to elicit a great big pat on the back from opposition councillors, but which the administration and local officers should be prepared for far more opposition to, in the months and years to come.
Because of the reform of the new homes bonus, Basildon council will lose £150,000 this year, next year and the year after.
Almost half a million pounds lost to this council because of shortsighted tory reform.
Money that should have been used to invest our council housing sock, maintain decent home standards and help in the building of more council housing, gone.
Mr. Mayor, the public now know, you can never trust the Tories on housing.
Mr. Mayor, let us now explore further part of the reason why residents across this borough, irrespective of their income, will all have to pay more in council tax this year, next year and every year in this parliament.
That is of course, because of the social care precept.
There will be some councillors in the room who have more experience in the social care sector than others.
There are some councillors in the room who themselves are carers.
There is at least one councillor in the room who has held the social on a unitary authority.
So I do not plan to explain, in any great detail, how it is that failing Tory health policy has led to hundreds of vulnerable, disabled and older people across our borough.
Unable to get out of bed, to wash themselves to feed themselves, to use the toilet, because they have been failed by a social care system, low on money, big on chaos and devoid of any political recognition strategy from Jeremy Hunt.
But the reality is, that when you fully understand the social care crisis; the fact that Basildon hospital is running at a 92% bed occupancy with older people – many of whom are veterans of war, are former construction workers who built homes and office buildings within this borough, are medically fit for discharge from hospital – but are being left to rot in a hospital bed because Phillip Hammond says in the Autumn Statement that “we’ll deal with this after 2020”.
When you listen to the voices of Basildon’s GPs, the CCG, the Third Sector, just about anybody with any expertise in health and social care, you can't help but draw a simple conclusion; and that is this: allowing vulnerable people to rot must be the intention of the Conservative party.
And if it isn’t, where is the lobbying from Basildon Council to make further investment happen?
In real terms, most working age people who are paying the additional tax in the form of the social care precept, will themselves never actually see this money spent on their care in later life.
The Tories have moved the goalposts so much in the last seven years when it comes to eligibility, that hundreds of people in Basildon who should be in receipt of the care this increase in taxation is designed to cover, will never actually receive it.
In essence, they pay National Insurance Contributions to fund healthcare via the NHS and then they pay again through council tax precepts for healthcare they won’t even receive.
It’s not right and it’s not fair.
Similarly, on policing Mr. Mayor – as Basildon’s representative on the Essex Police and Crime Panel, I voted against the Commissioner’s plans for an increase in the precept.
He said he wanted to increase the amount every household pays so that he could hire 44 new police officers.
My question; why did you sack them in the first place? We were told that you could sack 800 police staff and it wouldn’t impact on crime.
Why is it now that residents have to pay more money just to get 44 new officers?
The public rightly expect the Home Office grant which they contribute to through income tax and NIC to pay for their safety via the police.
More backwards policy from the Tories when in power that should not be supported tonight.
The key line that runs throughout this entire budget report comes in the section that will become a central pillar of this council’s economic agenda moving forward, the Funding Framework, and it is this; “This approach is designed to recognize the diminishing scope for service efficiencies”.
This is key Mr. Mayor, because it is the first time in seven years that a Budget report puts in black and white the fact that there can be no more cuts to our services. The only thing left is abolition.
Or, the implementation of this new framework.
And I should point out that I have very seriously grave concerns about the approach.
‘Funding Framework’ sounds very Whitehall. Well if it is than this is more The Thick of It than it is House of Cards.
Because the new strategy – the master plan for getting out of any kind of economic trouble – the plans to close the structural deficit gap amount to...Borrowing, Borrowing and Borrowing.
The council wants us to borrow money, to buy assets, hike up rents and then also act as a legal loan shark to other public sector bodies.
The risks to the council are enormous.
Taking out loan agreements with public services such as the NHS isn’t advisable given the NHS has been starved of money by the Tories over the last seven years and is now in an even worse state that when Thatcher got her hands on it.
In 2002 Labour resisted calls from NHS Managers to allow them to borrow money because there was a belief that they would go on spending sprees where the risk, no matter how great, would be offset by a central government bail out if things went wrong.
In order to sweat enough assets to plug a £10m structural deficit gap, we require borrowing into the hundreds of millions of pounds. At a time when interests’ rates could rise, public services could crumble and when we are as a country, closer to our next recession than we are to our last.
On this principle alone, Labour cannot support the direction of travel of the council.
Mr. Mayor I pay tribute to Kieran Carrigan, Angela Clarke and Scott Logan for their hard work and their teams’ due diligence. They have an almost impossible job thanks to the short sighted Tory Government that is determined to finish this council off.
But I do believe the situation is stark. Residents now know, after 7 years of failed Tory economic policies, that on the issues that really matter to them; strong local services, strong communities, policing, social care, waste collection, infrastructure improvements and public service…the Tories can’t be trusted.
Cllr Turner – a man who is leading a Group split right down the middle, with no faith in his leadership – desperately trying to cling onto power the public don’t want him to have, presents us with a Budget that is bad for Basildon.
I can only be thankful that the days of this Leader, this Cabinet and this administration, are numbered to just 92 and counting.