Mr Mayor, this is my third budget speech. On each of the previous occasions I described those budgets as ‘miserable’, and in many ways that description can be applied to this one too.
Let me be clear though, and before some get too excited here, I will be supporting this budget.
So, ‘miserable': how else can one describe the retreat of public services?
I remind members that we are making cuts because of an £11 million hole in our finances, a hole put there by the Conservative-led Government.
When members rightly blanche at the prospect of less bins, then I hope they remember why that is. When members rightly blanche at the prospect of more job losses, again I hope they remember why that is happening. And on May 7th, I hope they recall these, and other, cuts, and use their vote to pass judgement.
On the 9th of October, 2013, I wrote a blog post entitled “It’s about whether this administration has the will to support the most vulnerable in our town”. It was a reference to the then Holdcroft-led Conservative administration, and it was a direct quote from Cllr Ron Woodley, made at the previous evening’s Place Scrutiny Committee.
I think the evidence is clear, the will was not there. Since then the good people of Southend-on-Sea has passed judgement on that administration, and found them wanting.
In contradistinction, this Joint Administration is trying to support the most vulnerable. This includes those who use our care homes, and I celebrate in being part of an administration that has listened, and is saving Priory House.
We have had debates about the draft budget proposals, and I am pleased that my entreaties regarding public lavatories were listened to. I have long argued that the toilet provision which already exists is not adequate, the prospect of fewer left me quite uneasy. Notwithstanding the £11 million hole in our finances put there by Mr Cameron’s Government, we have managed to find savings elsewhere.
I am also pleased that the listening administration has listened to my pleas regarding textile waste collection; I am assured that kerbside collection is to continue.
Some have been scaremongering about waste collection. Some have objected to the contract renewal process. I guess the huge savings made by our officers will also attract scorn from those same people. Aside from the value for money argument, with an £11 million hole to fill how else do those voices expect this administration to act? We shall see when it comes to the vote who supports the saving of £825,000.
In the circumstances this is a very good budget. If we did not have to deal with this year’s savage cuts, £11 million imposed by the Conservative-led Government, then it would have been different in many respects. So, I call on all members to support this budget. I also call on them to join me in trying to change a national administration intent on savaging local government finances.