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Opposition stifled at Borough Council as Crisis Looms

February 24, 2005 9:00 AM
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The council need to reduce their spending to avoid a financial crisis in three years time

Epsom & Ewell Borough Council passed their budget and agreed a 4.9% council tax increase, virtually the maximum 5% allowed under government capping rules. Opposition leader Cllr Colin Taylor (Lib Dem) moved an amendment drawing attention to the looming financial crisis predicted for just after the next borough council elections - and the optimistic nature of the proposals to reduce spending. He pointed out that if this year's overspend was repeated the crisis would happen even sooner. He said "Much as I would like to see a smaller increase in Council Tax, the council's finances are in such a state that it would be irresponsible to propose this."

By insisting on arcane rules of procedure, the ruling RA Party managed to limit any criticism by opposition councillors, whilst allowing their own spokesman Cllr Eber Kington unlimited time to crack jokes, insult members of other parties and indulge in politics and self-congratulation.

Cllr Colin Taylor pointed out that the council had overspent this year and were using up their cash reserves faster than planned. From the council's own budget report it was clear that they needed to reduce their dependence on spending the reserves year on year to avoid a financial crisis in 3 years time. Yet the estimates showed the rate of spend increasing.

"More radical measures will be needed by or before 2007/2008 to avoid the need for an unsupportable council tax increase that would invite capping, leading to severe financial difficulties for the council", he said, "I see no mention of how this is going to be achieved in this budget and so we cannot support it. There might be work going on behind the scenes, but to prevent this situation arising, there should be an expenditure review by an appropriate committee, meeting in public."

Cllr Jonathan Lees (Lib Dem) pointed out that even now the budget included sharp increases in charges, including some that would affect older and more vulnerable people. He agreed that radical changes were needed and unnecessary expenditure such as ceremonial events curtailed.

RA Party councillors voted to take no action on Cllr Taylor's warning.

Predictably, Labour spokesman Cllr Vince Romagnuolo proposed halving the increase to 2.5% but was saved by the time limit from the difficult task of explaining how this could be done.

Conservative councillors made no comment.