- Posted by: Canterbury Labour
- Category: News
The following speech was given by Cllr Alan Baldock on behalf of the Canterbury Labour Group as the Council agreed its budget for 2023/2024. Whoever wins in May will inherit this budget and the precarious financial situation the council is in.
Scratch off a much-cherished shiny veneer and you see a Conservative administration that has bought a once proud and secure Canterbury City Council to the brink.
Crippled by debt, weak and slow awkward, choosing to hide as they chase dreams and not reality. Too often unable and unwilling to step up to meet what the residents deserve and expect of a functioning administration. They are seen as a failure by the communities we represent as they live with the daily consequences of YOUR decisions. The path trod to this place has been of their own making. As a nodding dog Tory administration, they blindly obeyed a Conservative Government obsessed with austerity and encumbered by the dogma of Tory trickle-down economics. You became wedded to debt-based investment in property as you dreamed of a magic income stream that insulated you from the cuts your administration imposed.
Currently Canterbury City Council has £181M of debt, costing at least £12M in Capital Finance and Interest this year. To put that in perspective its £76 per resident and more than the entire Car Park charges collected in a year- just to pay the debts of your dreams. Whitefriers Shopping Centre limps along contributing little, the new restaurants and bars at Riverside development are largely still empty and a return on more than £26M invested looks unlikely any time soon. The £9M empty shed in Station Road West is sadly likely to be a lifetime drain on our Council budgets.
Recently the Leader has been asking publicly for Labours ideas to solve his problems, I speak for all the Labour Group – we are VERY flattered that he wants our solutions to the mess he and his administration, in league with the Conservative Parties 13-year obsession with austerity has created. You have no need to worry we have plenty of policy ideas, please don’t be offended if we choose to share those openly and honestly during our election campaign and we will let the public decide the direction of a new Council.
But here is an idea from Labour on that last issue now anyway – you may all recall the Leader helpfully explained the other day that shed in Station Road West was actually built by Canterbury City Council to help our rail operators to improve their offering to customers. Cllr Fitter-Harding said on 28thJanuaary “it demonstrates to Network Rail and Southeastern that we have a high degree of confidence in Canterbury West…” – personally I suspected they already had confidence having spent millions on improving the connection to London. So perhaps the Leader could see if they are now willing to contribute a bit to the cost of that shed he built for them and not leave it to residents to pay for the dream.
I was speaking to an elderly resident a few days ago, she said in a quiet voice with a sense of resignation almost hopelessness – “I was born here and used to love my City – now I am ashamed of it”.
She was looking out at a litter strewn street from her much loved home, a place where she had bought up her family. Across the street a neighbour’s bins sat on the pavement unemptied for weeks, the wrong sort of rubbish – I was invited to her home because her daughter and grandson were struggling to find accommodation they could afford and had been waiting weeks to speak to somebody in the housing team face to face. The failures of thirteen years of Conservative Government and a lapdog Conservative Council since 2005 have hollowed out services across all department, teams are at breaking point, skeleton staffing levels creating stress and a catalyst for so many brilliant people choosing to leave this Council. A Tory Council under the wing of a Tory Government knows all too well that the people most affected by austerity are the poor and vulnerable. They equally know that Local Councils are the front line in supporting those in need.
Between 2010 and 2019 nationally £30Billion was cut from welfare payments, housing, and social services and still the real time cuts continue to this day. Bungled Conservative Local Government Policy and the resulting lack of clarity chips away constantly at the effectiveness of Local Councils. This Council had its funding reduced in cash terms by 36% between 2015/16 and 22/23, add to that a cut in other funding streams like the new home’s bonus. The only resolution to an impossible situation on offer from a Tory Government demands that Councils like ours must beg and grovel. The one trick pony of playing time wasting lotteries for a return of a tiny fraction of the money lost over a decade.
Its unedifying, discriminatory, and unfair. But we should not be surprised – that’s the Tory way they have shown that over the decades – they are content to sow division and infighting, the spectacle of the rich throwing pennies to the poor in the naive assumption that trickle-down economics works with an empty belly and a doorway to sleep in. That elderly lady I spoke to is the face of your failures, the real consequence of the Tories endless cuts and your unwise investment in dreams. Residents like her are the people we are here to serve, every hour of every day through good times and bad. Their dreams are for a clean and safe district they can afford to live in and enjoy – not a bit part in property speculation. The people that pay us the honour of living in this district and electing us deserve better – they rightly expect and deserve that the priorities of this Council to put them FIRST and don’t expect them to catch a promised drip from the discredited trickle-down economics to which this Councils is wedded.
The unforgivable neglect of our communities during the Tory austerity years leaves a scare that will take a generation to address, it is a policy that you all support in this latest Tory lap dog Council. Yet today you have still chosen to do nothing significant to directly support those affected – that’s been your political choice for the record. So before all the loyal Conservative Councillors vote to approve the Conservative budget, could you all first consider this very small change.
The amendment proposed is: –
The Members Opportunity Fund of £39K is suspended and repurposed to fund additional staffing within the CCC housing team. To note that the suspension of the fund should ideally be for two years 2023/24 and 2024/25, as such in 2024/25 a similar arrangement will need to be considered to provide the desired continuity.
This minor amendment is intended to achieve forward funding for an urgent appointment of additional staff within the housing team to proactively work on reducing homelessness. Wishful thinking from your Cabinet about resolving a housing and homelessness crisis will never keep families together. Part of a sustainable solution lies with empowering teams to deliver practical solutions face to face and proactively problem solve.
Solving a homelessness crisis before families are homeless costs a whole lot less – that’s sensible, pragmatic, forward thinking Labour economic principles. To achieve that outcome Labour is happy to signpost this amendment as an important part of a solution and as part of YOUR Conservative Budget. Make no mistake we will not put our support behind your budget proposal on bloc, it does not share our priorities or align with our ambitions for this district which deserves so much better. However, this amendment, set within YOUR budget proposal, will positively change the outcomes for a great many families across communities over the next two years.
Why this amendment in particular – well on the back of every Labour Membership card is a statement of our beliefs, part of that is this sentence “by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”. When the need is great, as it is today and especially for our housing crisis, we choose to look to our moral compass and Labour principles. Yes, it is good to have an Opportunities Fund and it has been a privilege over the years for us all to support local projects. But in desperate times with this Council finances in tatters Labour are not afraid to question if this is the best use of that money, we don’t believe on balance it is. We hope you will agree with us that by our common endeavour we can do more with less and give hope and security to many more families across every corner of our district.
This amendment is proposed and will be seconded by Cllr Hazelton