The Council Chamber fell quiet for what seemed like the longest time during last week’s annual budget debate. The Conservatives’ front bench were lost for words. They had been asked to guarantee that the £905,000.00 cut to the budget for children with complex needs would not put any child in H&F Council’s care at greater risk. Eventually, they ducked the question and the meeting passed without any such guarantee being given.
The Labour Opposition then moved an amendment to the budget which read “That the Director of Children's Services be instructed to reverse the funding cuts to services for children with complex needs (p359), to be funded by back office efficiencies”. The Conservatives voted that down. You can read more on this issue in this week's Gazette.
The Tories then explained that it was also okay for their Administration to cream off £740,000.00 of central government money that had been destined for local schools as well as adding an extra £300,000.00 in admin cost to school bills. They said it was justified as our schools already had quite a “lot of money” anyway. I do not think any parents who run school fetés, bake cakes and take time out to raise extra funds or contribute extra money to local schools would agree.
In fact, this years budget saw the Tories use their massive majority of 20 (there's 33 Conservative councillors) to vote through a series of highly controversial cuts in the numbers of parks police, to reduce youth facilities, and cancel established services - such as the garden waste removal. We also debated the Tories extra 578 stealth taxes which include new or more inflation busting charges for parking, child care, meals on wheels, local businesses, sports facilities, skip hire, planning applications and care for the elderly.
One thing that is becoming increasingly notable is that nearly all of what the Conservatives claim credit for are actually nothing to do with them. Take the extra £200million they claim the Council Administration is investing in schools. This is all central (Labour) government money invested under an initiative called Building Schools for the Future; or take the refurbishments in Shepherds Bush Green, Normand and Frank Banfield Parks - the works and investment for this was all arranged by the last Labour Administration from outside sources. The Tories even boast about paying off long standing debt despite £9.5m of this being voted though in the 2006 budget by the last Labour Administration.
There were some things in the Tories budget which we, the 13 members of the Opposition, agreed with and there was plenty that we didn’t. I will detail specific examples of how the budget plays out over the coming year.