Labour’s response to Swale’s Tory Budget

Labour Group Leader Mike Haywood.

Labour Group Leader Mike Haywood.

Cllr Mike Haywood, Leader of the Labour Group on Swale Borough Council, has said that this year’s Tory’s Budget for Swale is:

“Unfair because it raises taxes in our parishes, unaffordable for 1 in 10 people hit by the Government’s welfare reforms, and too little too late for people waiting to see the Council take action on things that matter to them.”

Cllr Haywood pledged that a Labour-led Council would pass on the Council Tax Support Scheme grant to Parish Councils, waive the 1% increase in councillor allowances, and buy three houses as temporary accommodation for the rising number of homeless families.

Speaking at the Full Council meeting on 19 February, he said:

One of the joys of becoming Leader of the Labour Group is that you get to rummage through the cupboard in the Labour Group office in Swale House. And unlike this year’s Conservative Budget, you won’t find any skeletons in it.

One of the treasures I found was a copy of the Budget response from 30 years ago given by the then Leader of the Labour Group, Dr John Donnellan.

When John Donnellan stood where I stand tonight, he drew attention to the way the Conservative Government had recently cut the Rate Support Grant from 69% to 51% during the previous four years. And he challenged the then Conservative Council to justify the level of reserves they kept sitting on.

History has a funny way of repeating itself.

By the end of that decade, John Donnellan had become Labour Leader of this Council. It’s a salutary reminder to Members opposite that you are on notice.

The Revenue Support Grant was always there to compensate local authorities with the greatest need. But the current Government have completely abandoned that principle.

This coming year the Revenue Support Grant will account for as little as 26% and by 2016-17, just 10% of the Budget.

We’ve reached a point where income from Business Rates, Council Tax, and even Fees & Charges are now more critical to balance our books.

The localisation of Business Rates should be a spur to attracting new business. But failure to do so comes at a high price.

If it wasn’t for the New Homes Bonus – which forms a key line in our balance sheet once again this year – we would be sunk.

But the New Homes Bonus is like a mirage.  It helps us to hold on by the white of our knuckles, but if our housing numbers drop off, we lose the money from it.

Now, the Cabinet Member for Finance says that he is once again freezing council tax.

But that’s not entirely true. Here’s the first skeleton in the cupboard.

This Budget gives residents in many of our ‘parished’ areas an unfair council tax rise.

In fact, some of them are seeing some of the biggest tax hikes in living memory because the Tory Leader refuses to pass on money from the Government under the Council Tax Support Scheme.

This Budget is also unaffordable for the 1 in 10 people in our borough (the figure according to the Local Government Association) who have been hit by the Government’s welfare reforms and who are struggling to keep their heads above water.

And finally, this Budget is too little too late for the people who want to see this Council actually do something

£14m sitting in reserves.

No Living Wage for the cleaners;

No hope for lowest paid workers that their employers will get the message;

No spending on learning and skills;

Apprenticeships down not up;

No free parking initiatives in our town centres;

High streets without focus;

A response to rising homelessness driven by finance rather than need;

Regeneration going backwards not forwards in Queenborough & West Sheppey;

No community centre in Sittingbourne;

No sign of a new beginning for the town centre;

The Skatepark planning application withdrawn;

No capacity to respond to the health bureaucrats when they say they’re going to close our Minor Injuries in Faversham;

Time and money wasted on localism initiatives that end up in the bin. They may keep Cllr

Whiting in a job but they don’t create a single job in our economy.

These are the headlines behind this year’s Budget.

Unfair tax rises in our parishes; tax bills for those who can’t afford it; and a list of initiatives going nowhere with millions sitting in the bank doing nothing.

These are the reasons why we will not be supporting this Budget.

And these are the reasons why we need a Labour-led Council once again.


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