By Councillor Dave Wilson / Jobs / 0 Comments

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.

 

By Councillor Dave Wilson / Transport / 0 Comments

At Canterbury council’s Regeneration Committee on 21st January, Labour Councillors voted against the proposed changes to parking charges. Although the proposals contained some useful ideas, Labour felt the proposals were inadequate to the challenge facing the District.

 

Speaking at the meeting Cllr Dave Wilson said:

 

The most important question here is how the Council addresses the tensions in the different objectives the Council has: revenue raising; changing travel behaviour to reduce pollution and climate change impacts; and supporting our High Streets.

These are incompatible aims. The report does nothing to discuss what our priorities are or should be, or how to balance them. These are bigger issues than can be dealt with in a report solely about parking charges and we need a proper overriding policy discussion.

Of the three objectives, revenue raising for the Council ought to be the lowest priority, because responsibility for the under-funding of local Government predominantly rests with central Government, which could resolve our budget problems in other ways if it chose to. But the other issues – climate change and the future of the High Street – are serious, immediate, and affect all our residents and businesses.

Much more consultation with the business communities is required to meet their concerns. If we don’t support the High Streets NOW then there may be nothing left to save in 2022/23. We didn’t listen to the pleas of hoteliers expressed at the Canterbury Forum a year ago on this issue.

Not one of the identified aims set out in the report relates to Climate Change. Coming on top of the Council’s failure to insist on non-diesel buses for Park and Ride and non-diesel vehicles for the Canterbury Environment Company, this demonstrates a complete failure of the Council to live up to the promises made in the climate emergency declared in July 2019. We need a 10 year strategy to wean the Council off parking income, discourage car usage, and protect the high streets in whatever forms they exist by then. Until we get that, policies like this are inadequate to the challenges we face.”

In the debate Councillors George Caffery and Chris Cornell both spoke passionately against the decision to remove the amount of free parking available to the disabled. Watch the video below to hear their argument

By Councillor Dave Wilson / Latest News / 0 Comments

Last night, Canterbury City’s Tory Councillors voted to cut off residents’ access to influence Council decision making.

They voted to abolish Area Forums, the only place where residents and Councillors could engage in dialogue about policy. They voted to stifle the routes for residents, parish councils, residents’ association and civic bodies (like Canterbury Society and the Heritage Design Council) to object to planning applications. 

All this not to save money, but to increase their control on discussion and remove opportunities for dissent from the public.

Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors united in opposing these changes, which are an assault on the fundamental principles of representative democracy. The arguments put forward for the changes were spurious and unsupported by either costed  savings or improved processes.

The only conclusion one can reach is that the new Council Leader, the architect of this move and the person who has pushed for this untimely and unnecessary change, can’t stand the thought of his ideas being subject to scrutiny.  Which is a shame given his terrible track record as a champion of the reviled and nearly empty Station Road West carpark, the over budget ANPR parking system and the failed city centre 4G coverage.

In fact, this removal of public engagement rights is part of a pattern of measures which seek to stifle the people’s voice, to erect barriers to new ideas from outside the Tory Group, and to rigidly control debate. That is contrary to the purpose of a local Council.

Engagement with our electors is not something which is “nice to have”. This Council is, despite what some people think, a business. Residents are not simply customers: what Council does fundamentally affects many aspects of their daily lives. They have a right to be heard, and it is Councillors’ duty to make that as simple and unintimidating as we can.

Councils are already seen as remote. The Forums created openings for people to speak to Councillors in an informal and developmental way. In Canterbury, the Forum heard from market traders, taxi drivers, hoteliers, the Business Improvement District, individual shopkeepers, and residents concerned about parking, parks, street litter, traffic, the environment, refuse collection and many other topics. To shut residents out from any meaningful route to make suggestions and contributions is arrogant and bound to reduce the quality of decision making.

We already see low turnout at elections. We need to do more, not less, to make the Council relevant, approachable and open to residents’ ideas.

Democracy is not an optional extra for local Government, to be discarded on the grounds of cost or its inconvenience for the ruling political Party.  It is as much an essential part of what the Council does as providing refuse collection, social housing, playing fields or street cleaning. That the Tories dislike their ideas being open for scrutiny and debate shows both the feebleness of their policies and their fear of the electorate.