If our communities and businesses are to recover quickly once the Covid pandemic recedes and life resumes, 14 months of lockdown damage needs to be repaired as quickly as we can.
Labour believes that our City Council has a key role to play in enabling this through community groups and local businesses, and we are proposing to spend almost half a million pounds of money to do that.
The Conservatives’ Council budget proposals for 2021/22 do nothing to provide such much needed support. So Labour Councillors have created an opportunity to provide funds to rebuild our communities and High Streets.
We recognise that it will take more than good wishes to help our District recover from Covid. We want to take positive steps to support our businesses in the district’s high streets through serious measures to encourage the return of visitors, and to support our community groups in making improvements for our residents. So our budget proposals provide residents and businesses with a platform and confidence to make 2022 a year of growth.
There are three specific elements to Labour’s proposals:
- £50,000 extra for parking discounts and incentives, bringing the total to £100,000
- £100,000 extra in RISE grants
- £100,000 new funding to aid the recovery of high street retail and catering businesses
In addition, £204,000 more is earmarked for further support if possible.
Labour believes all these steps are not merely beneficial but are essential if our high streets and communities are going to be helped to recover from this year of lockdowns and crisis.
How do we propose to do this? By preparing to use additional parking income and applying it where it can do most good.
Where is the money coming from? The Conservative budget assumes that parking income will fall by 10% (just over £1 million) compared to2019/20. Although that is in line with the catastrophic 9.9% collapse in GDP that the Government has overseen in 2020, Labour believe it is unnecessarily pessimistic.
Economic forecasts are now consistent in predicting a strong economic bounce back, with growth of 4.2% in 2021. As a major regional hub for retail and leisure, and with two vibrant seaside towns, our District is well placed to benefit from the predicted summer surge in UK-based tourism and pent up consumer demand which supports that analysis. An extra 4.2% in parking income would result in £454,000 additional income above that contained in the Conservatives’ budget.
Labour Councillors believe that money needs to spent early on in the recovery if it is to have the maximum effect.
We have shown how we would use that. But this pandemic has been unpredictable, as has the Government’s response to it, so we remain cautious, and we have proposed two prudent measures to ensure that the budget is balanced: to not spend anything until we know that the rise in parking income is real; and to not commit almost half the extra money until it has come into the Council. In short: there is nothing profligate about this proposal. The risk of an income shortfall is clearly managed, the spending is dependent on economic recovery, and the benefits are clear.
In 4 of the past 5 years the Council has significantly underspent its budget. If we want to stimulate the recovery locally, it would be economic insanity to underspend in this year of all years.
In summary: we know this is a difficult year, with a high degree of uncertainty made worse by inadequate central Government compensation for the costs this Council has incurred and the losses it has suffered. But we must ensure that in the immediate recovery period we invest to secure the future of our businesses and our communities. That’s what Labour’s proposal delivers.