As part of its’ response to the Council Budget, Labour Councillors won a concession forcing the Conservative Leader of the Council to write to the government highlighting the precarious nature of local government funding and the impact of austerity on Canterbury City Council and its’ work.
Councillor Rob Thomas wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the 13th February but failed to adequately explain the problem. Below is the text of our letter written by Councillor Jean Butcher highlighting what he should have said:
Thank you for writing to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in line with the Labour motion to Council on 13th February. Unfortunately, while you have complied with the letter of our request you have predictably failed to capture the spirit of it. In so doing, you have utterly failed to adequately address the growing concerns of the people of our District about the decline in Council services which is becoming more apparent every day.
You rightly highlight the pressure on Council finances which results from the withdrawal of the Rate Support Grant for student homes, the impact of residents having to fund services for students and over 7 million visitors, and the negative effects of the outdated valuations and banding constraints on Council Tax.
However, while setting out the scale of the cuts that have resulted from this, you have failed to explain that even more cuts are coming. The purpose of my motion was for you to highlight to Government, with the Council’s full support, that this position is not sustainable, and to do so before we reach a crisis point. However, the tone of your letter seems rather to suggest that while all this shortage of money is jolly inconvenient, we are doing our best and we’d like to show you how very well we are coping.
This is a disservice to the people of Canterbury. Entirely due to the policies of the Conservative Government since 2010, we face a crisis in the Housing Revenue Account which is preventing us bringing homes up to an acceptable standard, as well as preventing us building enough homes to meet the needs of local people.
We face a crisis in homelessness, as Universal Credit impacts on people’s ability to pay rent to private landlords, and to some such landlords refusing to accept benefits recipients as tenants. Homelessness is increasing and we are struggling to deal with it.
We face a crisis in the environment, which we lack the funds to effectively address, resulting among other things in increased flood risk and excessive carbon emissions.
We face a crisis in the condition of the public realm, unable to adequately clean or maintain even the most prominent streets in this World Heritage City.
We face a crisis in transport and pollution, with our partner council, Kent, unable to adequately maintain our roads or invest in much needed traffic improvement schemes.
Residents’ health, including that of many children, is suffering through the resulting pollution. Public transport is prohibitively expensive for many people. We face a crisis in our economy, as Brexit bites and our ability to attract tourists and to promote business is eroded.
In every aspect of this Council’s work, 10 years of sustained cuts to funding streams and limitations on our ability to raise taxes to compensate have taken a terrible toll on our services, our staff and our residents. Complacency of the sort exhibited in your letter does nothing to deal with this.
On behalf of the Labour Party in Canterbury Council, and all our residents, I moved a motion asking you to spell all this out to the Government and to seek an immediate change in policy to allow our services to be properly funded. Instead, you’ve offered the minister a day out in Canterbury to see our “ambitious Council” and our “truly amazing” District, and suggested there are opportunities as well as challenges ahead. All that may be true, but unless you take the serious steps necessary to demonstrate to Government the damage which 10 years of austerity have done to our District – as to so many others – we will never get to a position in which we have the ability to realise our collective ambitions and release the potential of this wonderful District.
Your letter avoids the essential presentation of all these facts, and as such the Labour Group condemns it and your failure to adequately defend the people of the District.
Cllr Jean Butcher