Budget first impressions

I got a brief first look at the budget proposals last night. The next few days I will be attempting to absorb the details, I may even have a few suggested amendments. So far, though, it is a story of more cuts and more job losses. The scale of the proposed cuts – a mere (sic) £7.3 million – is less than the numbers bandied around last year (anything up to £14 million was suggested) and this has got to be good news. The job losses, numbering somewhere between forty and fifty, are very disappointing.

In amongst the detail, which I confess to not being fully familiar with at the moment, are the library cuts and the closure of the residential care homes. Council rents will be going up, and this looks like it will be an above inflation rise. Council tax will be frozen, something made almost unavoidable because of central Government diktat. (A rise can be made, but in reality we would gain 0.5% at most.)

My portfolio (Public Protection, Waste and Transport) looks like it is getting an unexciting budget – but I will reserve final judgement for now. There is a new (albeit temporary) car park for the site of the old Queensway House and this is expected to provide £75,000 in revenue; I am slightly puzzled though as to where this will come from because if it takes its customers from other council car parks there will be no net gain. The Highways service is losing staff – I am awaiting clarification on what this actually means. I am pleased that my campaigning to de-clutter the town as regards to street signs is being rewarded (although this is being done to make a saving rather than improve the street scene, I will take it whatever is the driver). I am also pleased that the street lights are to be replaced with environmentally friendlier and cheaper to run LED replacements. This is something I have mentioned a few times in conversations – so I am not sure whether I can really claim credit for this.

The opposition alternative, if one is presented, will not be so much a budget but rather a collection of amendments. To stand any chance of being passed it will have to be agreed amongst the three opposition groups (Cllr Velmurugan is not included in these discussions – he will invariably support whatever the Tories come up with) and this will necessitate compromise. One thing is certain, the next few weeks will see much drilling down through the detail in these budget proposals, coming up with possible alternatives, and attempting to persuade other

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