Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Andrew Cooper - Budget Speech to Kirklees Council 19/2/14

 If we really want an alternative to the proposals of the Labour Led Administration then the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have to stop playing posture politics and work with other parties such as ourselves on the Council.

As the smallest group on the Council we have managed to get some concessions on parking permits and allotment charges for people on the lowest incomes. Without cooperation from other opposition groups we cannot do more.

At no point during the whole budget process did I get a single approach from the Conservatives about how we may tackle the budget challenges. I have tried in the past with the Conservatives but they made themselves unavailable as they had already made a 2 year deal to allow Mehboob Khan to become Leader of the Council in return for additional Committee Chairs and the allowances which go with them.  I did get a late eleventh hour phone call from Kath Pinnock from the Lib Dems which appeared to be more a fishing expedition for information rather than any plan for an alternative approach to the budget.

The Conservative and Lib Dem Groups need to accept responsibility for the position the Council is in. After all it is your government that is stripping £129million out of local budgets. You make matters worse by putting amendments in which make it harder to balance the Councils budget. Putting an additional £1m to £2million onto the revenue budget might enable you to make meaningless promises in a leaflet to fool somebody into voting for you but you are not being straight with people or telling them the whole story.

What we are pleased about is the commitment to use Housing Revenue Account reserves to install solar panels into the homes of up to 2000 council homes. This will come at no cost to the Council Tax Payer. It will however save the average householder money off their electricity bill and this money will put up to £400’000 back into the local economy and not into the profits of the Big Six Energy companies.

What comes next is the real challenge. Who would really want the responsibility of running Kirklees knowing what is to come? The reduction in services for local people still paying the same amount of Council Tax and the hundreds of staff redundancies that are to come with the impact on their families. 

Our Group is keen to find ways to save local facilities such as Libraries, to have more devolved decision making over what remaining funding is available locally and to engage WITH communities and NOT retreat from them. We do not want to take the cynical easy path of politicians who are willing to comment but unwilling to help, willing to posture but unwilling to participate.

We urgently need more goodwill and more communication on the Council between the political groups recognising that the financial cliff edge that is coming. If we do not,  we let down the people who elected us, the people Kirklees  employees and the communities that we represent.

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