The following speech was made my Conservative Group Leader Councillor Ian Fisher:
I want to begin by offering my thanks to all those concerned with producing the Financial Plan.
I have met with Officers during this process so am aware of the many hours it takes to complete, and the Conservative Group appreciates the hard work by the officers of the Council.
Now to the Labour budget – a budget best described as like the dying embers of a fire – all the fuel has been used and there is a desperate lack of oxygen. This budget is devoid of ideas, lacking aspiration and ambition, misleading and full of negative assumptions.
We are all acutely aware of the cuts to the grant from central Government – how could any of us forget as Cllr Ellesmere makes it his point to constantly remind us. It is almost used as a mantra by the Labour Group to cover for any problems or issues that arise.
Well – it’s a fact of life that has been apparent to us all for 9 years. It was my Colleague Cllr Carnall who presented the 1st budget that contained these cuts. That year the cuts were huge, some 16% and because we are Conservatives, we still managed to reduce Council Tax by 1%
In just a few months my colleagues found ways to absorb that budget cut and still lower Council Tax. This tired administration has been in power for 8 years, and all this time has known what challenges it faces. No longer can everything be blamed on others – something the Labour Group has a degree in.
Everything about how this budget is being presented is designed to highlight problems caused by others, to maximise the impression that government cuts have crippled us to the extent that we can’t really be at blame for anything because we don’t have any money. It is also deliberately negative so you can be persuaded that a 3%rise in Council tax is needed.
If we really had no money – and things were as bleak because of the cuts, then why on earth would any administration commit to £43 million of capital spending in the past financial year – at a cost of nearly £1 million to the General Fund?
Let’s just take a closer look at the details being presented to us this evening.
As far as the national context goes it is striking that the economy has outperformed expectations thanks in no part to the prudent policies of the Conservative government. Inflation is forecast to be at 2% for the next two years – something that makes the 3% rise in Council Tax proposed by the Labour Group as even more shocking.
We are shown the core spending power of the Council and told that the way the New Homes Bonus is calculated will have a major detrimental effect – but what we are not told is that Labours abject failure to hit any house-building targets also has a major detrimental effect on this figure.
Private developments have fallen way short of expectations – due in no part to the terrible relationship IBC has with many local developers. This has not been helped by the trading arms of the Council bidding on virtually every available major property in the area – inflating prices and working in direct competition with the very people it needs to help get this Town back on its feet.
A Conservative administration have far more innovative ideas to promote new housing in the Town – we would also work in conjunction with local developers on some deals – working with the very people who have a stake in the Town.
Labours failure to hit its own targets for house building has resulted in less New Homes Bonus and less Council Tax being available – this has in turn cost Ipswich residents dear as Labour constantly increase Council Tax year after year after year.
And it is Council Tax where I think the Labour Group have been both mis-leading and mischievous.
The 2018 budget contained the sentence
There will be a one-off increase of Council Tax in 2018/19 of 2.98%
The 2019 budget contains the sentence
In order to fund the remaining budget gap, it has been concluded that – for
one year only – the annual increase in Council Tax should be 2.99%.
This made me so angry – this isn’t a game – choosing to alter your rise by 0.01% to allow you to claim it is for one year only is disingenuous at best.
Why then, given that Cllr Cook has raised Council Tax by 3% (I refuse to pay games) twice is he assuming reverting back to a 2% rise for the remainder of the Financial Plan? Because it makes the final position look worse!
I am sure I will be told that the increase is lower than both SCC and the Police precept and this is true, both these organisations have far greater budget constraints and in the case of SCC far more statutory obligations. This Labour Council’s record since it came to power has been to squeeze the people of Ipswich every year. Since they came to power, they have taken an eye-watering £1.1 million extra from the pockets of the hard-presses tax-payers.
I just hope the Council Tax payers of Ipswich see through your smokescreen and realise that Labour is the party, and always will be the party of Tax and Spend – Labour Tax – Labour Spend – We all Pay.
A Conservative administration would reverse this trend, work with developers rather than against them and get more income for IBC. This in turn would see us being able to put an end to the excessive rises in Council Tax and give some relief to the residents of Ipswich who are driving our economy.
We are then outlined the cost pressures that have arisen during that past year
Cost pressures that amount to £8 million over the 4-year period of the Financial Plan
– Most of these pressures highlight failures by the administration and goes further to show that this group of Councillors have run out of ideas – they take their positions for granted and it’s about time the residents of Ipswich taught them a lesson.
We are forecast to lose the best part of £0.5 million, that’s on top of what we have already lost by not having a tenant in the old Post Office Building. It is a prime building – one of the most impressive in the Town Centre occupying a prime position and no income is forecast for 3 years.
So much could be done with that building whilst we are waiting for a tenant – and I won’t be told that it is in a state of disrepair as I am aware of the huge sums paid by the previous tenant to cover these costs. I am also aware that they are in negotiations with the very company that left them hanging before – not very encouraging. Labour have run out of ideas.
Next is one of the sadder and far more indicting items in the budget – A reduction in the Car Park income of another £0.5 million.
How can an administration spend over £5 million on a new car park – admittedly it was late – there were problems – then it leaked and then reduce the expected income by half a million pounds.
Is this what the Council Tax payers of Ipswich deserve?
By far and away the largest item on this list is from Q2 budget monitoring and is £3.1 million over 4 years. Most of these overspends and failures went under the radar at the time, mainly hidden by a massive £2 million grant from Central Government which will result in this Council making a surplus this year of nearly £1.5 million.
Cllr Cook presented the paper to Executive and the minutes state the following
“Councillor Cook explained that there had been no significant changes to the budgetary position since the previous report. A slight underspend was again anticipated, and, if achieved, this would lead to the Council’s balances rising to £9.1 million.”
So, does Cllr Cook really believe that an extra £3.1 million of costs over 4 years is not significant?
So, does Cllr Cook think that a £1.4 million underspend as a result of money from Central Government is slight?
Now I don’t think Cllr Cook is known for his humour so I can only presume these were more mis-leading statements by a Labour Executive member
All these extra costs were discovered in just one quarter of the current year and by far and away the largest of these costs is a reduction in Sports & Leisure income of £350k per year.
Two years ago, Cllr Rudkin presented a paper entitled Transforming Sports & Leisure and promised that if the actions were enacted – which they were that the service would be operating within budget by this current year.
Well obviously, it isn’t and we are still haemorrhaging money – another sign that Labour mis-lead the public and have run out of ideas.
The Conservative Group has repeatedly warned of this over the past few years and we have been ignored – only a Conservative administration could turn this service around with innovative and fresh ideas.
So already at this stage of the budget we have over £9 million to find.
Next is growth and capital spending. We welcome the announcement of some of the new spending, especially the money used to tackle ASB and increase community engagement. The Conservative Group is fully committed to ensuring our residents can live in a peaceful and enjoyable environment and we feel that it is vitally important to tackle these issues head-on with early interventions.
We are helped in this quest once again by Central government which has declared Ipswich as one of 12 Opportunity Areas and granting £6 million of funding designed to increase social mobility – something lacking in Ipswich.
Now we have the introduction of the Magician – at least that’s what I initially thought when reading the information about the Big-Ticket Programme.
It is undeniable that significant savings have been made to date, but they are dwarfed by the savings Cllr Cook expects us to believe he can conjure up in the future.
Last year there was £850k of unidentified savings within the budget – something Cllr Cook is most pleased to tell us have been eliminated this year.
That’s just another in a long line of mis-leading and disingenuous statements.
Last year £4 million of savings were needed now we are told it is £9.3million
Apparently there has been a review which has enacted what they call ‘new themes’ and they expect us to believe that changing the title of the target will realise an extra £5 million pounds!
There is no explanation of how this will be arrived. In plain English these should be re-branded to
This number has been used as a balancing figure after all the additional spending the Labour Group have committed to. The Conservative Group do not believe this is a balanced budget as we do not think it is anywhere near realistic to set such savings targets given that a lot of the easier savings have already been made to date. Giving the targets corporate titles does not guarantee success and it is impossible to vote in favour of this budget without more information as to how you hope to make such savings.
Last year we urged the administration to concentrate more on income generating services and to make more of the Council’s assets, and we made several suggestions – it is refreshing to see that some of these are being enacted such as Wastesaver thinking of extending their service to areas outside of Ipswich – an idea we have spoken about for some time.
This service of the Council perfectly highlights the difference between a tired Labour Council and a fresher Conservative version. We would have ensured that this service, and others returned increasing levels of income to the Council. Under this Labour administration the service has lurched from one disaster to another with no real leadership or direction. Town Centre customers are being lost on service and price.
The Labour Group have done nothing to address this apart from thinking about enacting one of our policies – but they are only thinking about it – not actually doing it.
They have no clue on how to increase revenue from this, or other services. We need to find extra income and not solely rely on hugely expensive property deals that leave us over exposed to fluctuations way out of our control.
The Conservative Group cannot support a budget that does not balance, is totally lacking in new ideas on how to make savings or generate income and mis-leads the public. We risk stumbling into a massive financial black-hole without the fresh impetus that is clearly needed at the top level of the Labour Group.
For those reasons, and many more I do not have the time to articulate we will not be voting in favour of this budget and I urge the public to show their displeasure with the Council by voting for Conservative Councillors with the fresh ideas needed to steer this Council through tough economic times in May’s local elections.