Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Facing the Financial Chellenge or Ideological Cuts

I went on to BBC Radio Leicester this morning to talk with Nick Rushton about the Tory controlled North West Leicestershire's plans for cuts to our council over the next three years.

The future is bleak.

To make books balance the council needs to reduce revenue spending by £1.5 million per year over the next three financial years - this really is a tough ask.

The resulting cuts will see:

  • Parking Charges hiked up
  • Leisure Centre creches closed
  • Coalville's Picnic in the Park stopped.
  • Community Grants reduced
  • ... and Nick cancelling Christmas (or very nearly doing so)
All this comes at a time when everyone is tightening their belt, not least many local businesses who are suffering.

My question is 'are these cuts really necessary'?

The truth is, just like the national picture the Tories are taking the opportunity to make ideological cuts and use the financial crisis to cover them up.

Let us look at the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) which went to Cabinet in September.

It said the projected revenue shortfall in March 2015 will be £1.26 million a year NOT the £1.5 million savings that is being aimed for - the report suggests that £1.5 million is a prudent level of savings to aim for but arguably a savings target of £1.4 million would do the job equally as well saving £100,000 of services being slashed each year.

The MTFS is always written as a best guess. Within the report is made the assumption that Council Tax will not go up in 2012/13. What the report doesn't provide for however is that the Government has since announced they are to increase grant funding next year to effectively make up for not increasing Council Tax. In other words grant funding will be more next year than the MTFS anticipates.

Finally the report is very clear about how much needs to be saved each year. The report says that in 2012/13 the Council needs to save £276K. Why then is Nick proposing cuts for next year of £768K?

That's half a million more than Nicks own report says needs to be cut next year.

We are very much in danger in North West Leicestershire of seeing the Tories mirror their national counterparts. The cuts are too deep too soon and there is a very real danger that they will cause serious damage to our communities.

Of course Nick will say all Labour want to do is spend more and not acknowledge the true financial position. So here is a suggestion.

As Leader of the Opposition, because of the number of hours I work additional to that of a backbench councillor, I receive a Special Responsibility Allowance. I'm the only Labour Councillor to receive one.

According to my best guess at least 9 Conservative Councillors get an allowance for Special Responsibility which is more than mine.

How about us voluntarily foregoing 10% of our allowance in recognition that times are indeed tough? According to my calculations that will save the Council £6K a year.

It might not balance the books but it will show our acknowledgement that we really are all in this together.

I'm up for it if you are...

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