Considering the state of RBWM Finances if you were given the choice would you take the path of least resistance and make a small attempt to improve the situation or would you take positive steps to rectify the financial problem and increase revenue to a sensible level to give residents the services they deserve and want?
OK. so it might be not be a popular choice to increase Council Tax but the reality is that to fix the hole now needs a 20% uplift in council tax to generate a £20m cushion that any sensible council strategy would have ensured. But consecutive Conservative administrations have been pretending everything has been OK and for the last 10 years or so and having a focus on being able to create banners saying that the council tax is the lowest in the UK, possibly on the planet, has taken precedence…
At the last council meeting I asked a question about how we might all work together to find a solution:
Councillor Davey asked the following question of Councillor Johnson, Leader of the Council:
With RBWM in a very serious financial situation is it now time to make use of the skills of all councillors, across parties, rather than simply relying on the Conservative Administration trying to go it alone?
Councillor Johnson responded that it was fair to say that there was a focus as an authority on significant financial challenges, some driven by demographics and some service-related pressures. The borough was in a comparable situation to others in the southeast facing constricted budgeting issues. His administration was committed to presenting a balanced budget. It would look to discuss with all interested parties; the Opposition would be able to comment at Scrutiny Panels and at Cabinet. Any ideas how to improve the financial position would be welcomed. He would be calling on the new majority Conservative government to look at the entirety of the local government financial settlement.
By way of a supplementary question, Councillor Davey asked if a cross-party working group including officers could be set up to look at the issues.
Councillor Johnson responded that the administration was working on a draft budget, which would go through the scrutiny process. Opposition Members would have the opportunity to suggest ideas and could contact individual Lead Members if they had contributions in specific areas.
I had been hoping that the new leader may have realised that we have some very financially gifted people on the opposition benches but very disappointingly it would appear they are set on continuing with the approach they have previously. Here is the reality about RBWM. At the last local election the Tory majority was significantly challenged and so local independents and other parties have a much stronger voice, which should require the ruling party to listen up. But it’s just not happening. The first we heard about the decision on Council Tax was the announcement in the local papers!
When Simon Dudley’ resigned his seat was again won by a Conservative perhaps creating a false sense that the wind had changed direction again.
The House of Commons may have a majority of 88 but in RBWM it is only 5.
In all seriousness, whatever party you vote for – would you be happy to get the RBWM on a more even keel by raising the council tax by a greater percentage, say 5% over the next say 5 years, to strengthen the RBWM financial position or do you prefer to hide you head in the sand, say it’s not my fault so that would be unfair and stick with the minimum?
This would mean an increase of circa £70 in a year for an average band D (pre precepts)
The current situation means that in order to balance the books, services need to be cut which disproportionately impact those less well off… alternatively, if we can’t, the state may have to take the financial reigns… how wrong would that be for one of the ‘wealthiest’ towns in Britain? All caused by Conservative miss-management of available resources that you probably voted for.
Was it your fault? What’s the fix… don’t vote Conservative ever again.
If people appreciate my honest, straight forward approach to local politics then they might support me again next time… if they prefer a spend, spend, spend sod the consequences approach then they will tick a different box.