As reported earlier I was following yesterday evenings Full Council Budget meeting on Twitter, whilst at the RPCEG meeting and later in the Fairlop Oak. As predicted it seemed to be a feisty affair and very lengthy. Even the Ilford Recorder reporter had to leave before it finished. So, let’s try and understand what happened. If I get anything wrong no doubt I will be pulled up by one of the politicos.
The background is that the Council has been, and will continue to face very difficult decisions due to the reduction in grant from Central government. At the same time the council has not raised Council Tax for some years and nobody was proposing to raise it for the next financial year – there are elections in May you know. There have been efficiency savings and cuts over past years but the outlook is still very bleak with a reported deficit of £25million over the next few years.
So, as reported in the previous post the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats published their budget proposals as detailed in the agenda reports.
The amendment put forward by Cllr Andy Walker was passed by all cllrs present. There were other amendments later from the Independent Group for additional support for the Loxford area and these were also passed but we don’t know if the vote was unanimous.
Now to the opposition Labour amendments as detailed in the previous post. The Liberal Democrats are very keen supporters of Area Committees so it was no surprise that they defended them vigorously. However, we know that at least some Conservatives are very sceptical about their value so we conclude the coalition agreement overrode their concerns. The amendments were defeated by the combined ranks of the ruling coalition, but wait …..
The coalition then tabled amendments to their own budget which appear to be very similar to those they just voted down. The free parking for 30 minutes, weekly street cleansing (a previous cut) and new enforcement powers were all identical but the free bulk waste proposal was limited to pensioners, disabled and the unemployed. Now, there are problematic issues around free parking and free bulk waste collection which it is not appropriate to go into here except to say that the group who will benefit from the bulk waste item are probably the least likely to use it. The big difference here is the way these items are proposed to be funded. As said the opposition wanted to pay for them by ditching Area Committees but the coalition propose to pay for them by using funding redistribution, borrowing cost adjustments and reserves. This, it is claimed by the opposition would increase the forecast deficit by £1million to £26million. These amendments were passed with the opposition voting against on the basis of the way they are being funded and not because they disagreed with the objectives. After all they did propose them in the first place.
Now we come to the swimming pool. It’s sink or swim time for the politicians or it will be in May. Prior to yesterday we had two proposals. A Conservative second hand temporary steel tank with a 2-5 year lifespan on the Seven Kings Lorry park site, costing about £2million. And a Labour plan to build a permanent (50 year lifespan) pool and leisure complex on the same site for an overall cost to the council of about £2.2million. This latter option would involve a loan, rather like a mortgage, but there is no guarantee that interest rates will remain low for the whole repayment period.
Yesterday the Coalition came up with a new plan. A permanent pool and leisure complex to be located on either the Barley Lane recreation ground, Valentines Park or South Park. This to be paid for by selling the Lorry Park site, which they claimed was not saleable last week due to the economic downturn. A week is a long time in politics and economics. This proposal was passed.
So, it’s all done and dusted, except it isn’t. There is the small matter of a local election on May 22nd. A change of control may well mean a change of budget and we cannot even rule that out if there is no change, as the lorry park “sale” may prove to be more difficult than expected.
In the press:
Watch out for Episode III: Revenge of the Sith