Archive for February, 2014

Why I can’t support the Norfolk County Council Budget: Budget Debate Speech

Thank you madam chairman,

I want to start by briefly reflecting on a debate that happened at the Community Services Overview and Scrutiny Panel whilst discussing these proposals last month. It started when a Cabinet Member commented that these reductions in Government Grant in this budget had come as a “surprise” to her, to which I and other councillors disagreed. Indeed, over the past three years the previous Administration faced £140m reduction in Government Grant and this Administration faces a further £189m.

In November, the Chancellor announced that if a Conservative government is elected in 2015, nationally there will be a further £20bn reduction in Government spending taking us to at least 2020. Before I am tempted to make a cheap political point, laying the austerity at Labours doorstep, I want to make the point that Labour has said that if they are in government post 2015, the deficit reductions broadly will continue.

Now, I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I would have money on the axe falling further onto Local Councils under either a future Conservative or Labour-led government.

This brings me to this budget here in front of us today – which, I have to say on the face of it looks a palatable budget.

During the Putting People First consultation, a lady from Salhouse contacted me about concerns about her disabled sons Personal Budget being taken away. She explained to me how her son benefits both physically and socially from the activities he uses his personal budget for. But for me, it isn’t just the activities that elderly and disabled people undertakes using their Personal Budget, it’s also the personal responsibility and freedom of choice it gives them which really empowers peoples lives; so I was glad when the cabinet decided to revisit that particular proposal.

However, when you take a closer look at this proposal, there will still be a cut of £3m this year and the £3 million to fill this budget gap will only delay the cut for a year. It will merely put off the fear that Elderly and Disabled people have of getting “cabin fever” and the abolishment of their personal goals that people across the county work so hard towards every single day.

And when you look at other proposals, the cut to the 16-19 bus subsidy – has been delayed for a year, but those same students will face the same cut the following year and experience the same sharp price rises and stark choices about accessing education.

Never mind “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” you are “Robbing Norfolk to save Labour!”

It is especially in these difficult times of austerity, the people who elected us are expecting real local political leadership.

The problem that my residents have with this set of budget proposals is that there is no coherent long term vision for what the role and shape of Norfolk County Council is in the future. As evident in the Putting People First Consultation responses, where people pointed out to you that the Administrations approach was no where near radical enough and that services are being plainly salami sliced.

Of course, this administration is incapable of being brave; and radical; and giving people the real strong political leadership that Norfolk expects in these tough times of austerity as it would further melt the glue that feebly holds Rag, Tag and Bobtail together.

Not that I doubt that any of the individuals within the alliance believe that they want to do the best for Norfolk…. but they can’t agree what that is! The result: this short term, apologetic excuse for a budget that cowardly kicks the difficult decisions down the road leaving thousands of our residents in limbo. Therefore, madam chairman, I stand firm with my Conservative colleagues who have spoken before me and urge Councillors to vote AGAINST this budget. The people of Norfolk simply deserve better.
Thank you

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