Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stand and Deliver?

Hard Choices for a (Un)Balanced Budget
- A view from The Portly One

After two area committee meetings (Areas One & Three) last week, I am left with emotions ranging from confusion to deep concern about the 2013/14 budget setting process by Redbridge Council.

The dominant party in the council are Conservatives, who claim efficiency and integrity in all matters fiscal as well as fairness and the courage to make the hard decisions. Yet after last weeks two area meetings serious doubt must be cast on these principles. A proposal for growth in the budget is the introduction of additional pay and display parking. Parking meters to you and me. This would raise £35k this year, building up to £160k after three years. That would represent £640,000.00 over the life of a council…a useful sum you might think.

There are two attitudes to P & D. One is that the poor old motorist is being hit again. The other is that if you don’t want to pay to park outside your local amenities, don’t take the car….it is a voluntary, personal choice to pay the “tax”.

The proposal acknowledged that, as the policy was a strategic one, the decision of where the meters would be installed would be a Cabinet decision. Sensible. A hard decision to impose additional costs should be a collective decision in order to avoid high levels of nimbyism and interest groups putting too much pressure on the process.

All well and good until Area One (Snaresbrook and Wanstead) meeting on 21st. Jan. When a resident asked “Where in Wanstead will these meters be?” the councillors (six Tories, three of whom are Cabinet members, including Cllr. Chan who has the Regeneration portfolio, which includes the P & D proposal) gave a categorical assurance that there would be no meters in Wanstead or Snaresbrook.

When it was pointed out to them (had they read the papers one has to ask?) that it was not a decision for Area Committees, but for Cabinet, they said they would move an amendment to re-instate the decision to Area Committee level.

Two days later, at Area Three, the budget, still with the P & D item included as a growth item, was again on the agenda. But before it was even discussed, Cllr. Poole announced that he had secured a categorical assurance from the Council Leader and relevant Cabinet member (Cllr. Chan, who was present at the meeting in his role of Cabinet member) that “There will be no pay and display parking meters in Manford Way”. And guess what….the Tories on Area Three agreed to move an amendment that the decision on placing the meters be taken at Area Committee level.

Of course, neither the decision by Area One Tories nor Area Three Tories was taken with next year’s elections in mind. They were challenged on this. No, they said. It was not a knee-jerk change of mind brought about by constituents asking questions about an unpopular proposal. I then asked that, since Area One was not going to have parking meters, and since Area Three (well, parts of it anyway) was not going to have parking meters, and since Area Four would probably not want parking meters in their streets, and that since the Tory councillors were going to remove the decision making process away from the Tory led Cabinet, could I now spread the word that the proposal was a dead duck and would not happen. After all, if the people who want to make the decision on where the meters go don’t want to put the meters anywhere, then surely there won’t be any meters? So much for my confusion.

Now for my concern. In these austerity driven times a sum of £640,000.00 raised from residents who choose to pay it, is a useful sum of money over four years. Think a day centre for elderly residents, an early learning centre etc. But meters are still unpopular. So the decision to introduce them and where to put them qualifies as a hard decision. But not one the Councillors had the courage to follow through and see it implemented.

To see that decision overturned at the first public airing by the Cabinet member responsible for it being there in the first place, to be followed by a world class display of back-pedalling two days later, raises serious doubts about the Cabinet's ability to actually make those hard decisions and follow them through. Or was the siting of these meters just not thought through?

And if a simple thing like parking meters has not been thought through, then just how much confidence can we have that our Council and Cabinet leaders have paid any attention to the really important issues that face us over the next year?

15 comments:

  1. You mentioned that the decision-making body was Conservative dominated and I have no reason to doubt that. So you'll pardon my astonishment when you appear to be surprised at associating Conservatives with U-turns. You may not perhaps have noticed that our 'government' is famous for the practice, world-wide.

    What's new, B21?

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    1. I shall let the author of the post, The Portly One, answer your question.

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    2. If you are referring to the government at Westminster they are not Conservative - they're Blue Labour.

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    3. Not surprised, Alfred. The thrust of my post was intended to unmask the claim of the Tories being "The only Party prepared to take the tough decisions". Tough decisions have to be backed up and this one wasn't. Mind you, a budget proposal being hurriedly dropped on day one of public scrutiny by the Cabinet member responsible for its inclusion is a rare enough treat to savour.

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  2. All they can think about is shoving up prices and driving off the customers. Increases in parking charges, or charging them in more places, will simply push even more shoppers in the direction of Loughton or Romford and the income target will not be met - again! And Redbridge will cease to be a place for leisure pursuits. Who knows - the day might even come when the system will not be able to afford the excessive levels of executive pay and members' "allowances".

    Why do they not put more effort into collecting the £2.7 millions unpaid parking fines? The sum is hardly inconsequential.

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  3. To see what is right, and not to do it, is want of courage or of principle.

    Confucius

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  4. The income targets for other parking proposals were wide of the mark but of course it helped to project large income from such initiatives. What it did was give a false account of likely targets and thus mean nothing more than a significant shortfall in generated income. It only meant that the council could seek to balance their books by giving false ambition to something that could not happen. This was the situation with parking charges in Parks and Open Spaces. It was never going to produce the figures in the proposals but that is what the Politicians wanted to portray. Never mind the public.

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  5. Interesting to know what the response is from Redbridge Council to this Ruling
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23406427

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    1. No doubt we will find out, or not ...

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    2. This refers to irregularities of process in the increased price of parking permits in Barnet.

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  6. It is clearly vindication for the insistence by the LibDems as part of the current partnership deal that permit parking would not be used as a revenue-raiser for the council as a whole, following some of the hefty increases under the previous administration. Barnet got into trouble by pushing through a big hike in permit charges clearly intended to support its general spending. In Redbridge price of a first car parking permit has not increased for five years, and our parking schemes are now among the best value schemes in London

    Ian

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    1. Pity you did not extend it to the full range of parking charges, particularly the outrageous charges in parks.

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    2. There aren't any parks with car parks in Roding ward but there are permit parking schemes?

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  7. Well done to the Deputy Leader for his reply.

    Redbridge Council appears to rely on Parking "Enforcement" rather than Parking Schemes to generate general revenue but the Council is owed a lot of money in fines

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    1. My understanding is that using parking charges to raise general revenue is illegal. The charges should cover the administrative costs directly incurred in the operation of parking schemes, and any surplus should be solely for highway improvements. The only "improvements" we seem to get in Redbridge are the crackpot TfL-funded schemes like the stretch of Clements Road by the library and the town hall, and the Barkingside High Street bus "priority" scheme that seems to have created an almost permanent daytime traffic jam. In Barkingside Dedbridge cannot even be bothered with late evening enforcement at bus stops - so much for priority!

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