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Surrey Liberal Democrats oppose the Council Budget

February 5, 2019 10:14 AM
Originally published by Surrey County Council Lib Dems

Speech delivered by the Leader of Surrey County Council's Liberal Democrat Group, Chris Botten, at the Full Council Meeting on 5th February 2019.

Full Council"For the avoidance of doubt, I am setting out this morning the reasons why I and my group will be voting against the budget papers as presented to us; we understand the extreme difficulties the council faces in producing a balanced budget, but we believe some core principles have been elided and some significant failures to address important issues are manifest.

In terms of the failures, they are as follows:

  • There is a failure to update our treasury management policies so as to generate the best level of income from investment funds; as a result, there are cuts in services which might otherwise be unnecessary. We need to be up with the best at this and aiming for at least 6%; we are far from there.
  • There is a failure to address our property portfolio in what is looking like a failed Joint Venture so that residents see valuable property empty, boarded up and wasting valuable resource. This is bad for the council's image with residents, misses key opportunities to support funding for services and leaves an outward and visible sign of inaction and neglect.
  • The budget is balanced by identifying savings in adult social care and children's services, the vast majority of which are invisible to members, are identified as risky or very risky in terms of deliverability and of which the impact on residents we cannot know. We cannot sign off the unknown.

While we recognise the necessity, we cannot know how residents' entitlements will be affected. We welcome the fact that there is now a drive to improve our children's services, but we cannot know how this drive is balanced with very deep cuts. We are asked to trust; we are asked to take a leap in the dark.

If we voted for this budget, we would be guessing at the impact on residents and so cannot make an informed judgement. While it is hard to know how the impacts could have been made known to us, the cuts required are deeper and more wide ranging as a result of the council's failure to address the deep rooted problems which have been identified over the last five years at least; the council's complacency, its wishful thinking, its banking on a chimerical bail-out, and failure to address the treasury management and property portfolio comes back to haunt us and make life so much harder.

We support the thrust of the proposals on SEND but have major concerns about how families will experience the process; there is a major issue of trust which families have in the fairness, timeliness and appropriateness of SEND provision while so many children have to travel outside Surrey and have to fight for their children's entitlements. We cannot take these matters on trust. When you consult in future, please be specific about what you are consulting on.

We cannot support the closure of the children's centres as currently proposed. The failure to have a satellite in South Tandridge, the closure of the Leatherhead centre which serves the very deprived North Leatherhead population, indicates that the analysis of the current provision is either hurried or flawed. More work should have been done to configure the new proposals more sensitively, possibly with a phased roll out.

We cannot support the budget because our back office costs are among the most expensive in the country. We find it baffling that we are cutting services deep and paying £2.5m on interim management-with so many appointments invisible to members and staff disappearing without explanation. That doesn't mean we have a problem with the staff recruited-we don't, we have a problem with the lack of transparency and process, and we have to explain it to residents. The problem is, we can't.

We can't support the budget because despite all my urging in this chamber many times, residents are going to pay more for services without the confidence that their quality will be properly assured.

I have asked for a charter which will promise that contracts will be properly enforced, potholes will stay repaired and the council's services will earn a reputation for competence. Our Vision to 2030 needs to contain a more explicit compact so that residents can be sure that their hard earned taxes will pay for safe, competent, class leading services we can be proud of. We have a long way to go before we can get to that.

We do not underestimate the challenges the council faces or the crisis in local government funding; the austerity programme is unnecessary and ideologically driven.

So we cannot collude with cuts we can't understand, which are deeper than they need be, and which will have impacts we cannot know, let alone measure. We need a charter of promises for our residents to guarantee them quality and trust.

This budget is a leap in the dark for a council with no parachute."