The Final Budget

Lib Dem attempts to make Borough defenceless in planning

We set our Council Tax yesterday evening.

As we know, there has been a lot of activity since we announced the draft budget after Christmas and I blogged about this at the time. Since then we have lobbied hard to get an unfair funding formula changed and for the first time ever in the history of Kingston’s Local Government settlement we got it changed. You can see that story here.

The removal of RBK’s direct Council Tax increase means that we are left with a 2% increase due to the Government's Social care precept - we will see this as a separate line on our bills. This, in cash terms means the total bill will show a modest increase because we also stop paying for the Olympics this year.

We did have a couple of changes to make and that was to ensure that we had enough money for our innovative new grants scheme for Councillors to utilise as small community grants for local organisations or projects. We have now increased this bureaucracy-free grant scheme to £2k per Councillor. 

In addition we put in another £500k of money to repair roads and pavements as we know there is still much work to do to put right the under investment in this area by the previous administration. Centralising these costs (we used to divide it all by four and had some crazy prioritisation system) means that we get an additional saving of £400k because ot the new methodology we are adopting, but putting £500k in will also help. We put in an extra £1m after the last elections as part of our manifesto pledge.

We have much work to do in delivering this budget in the coming months, but in the circumstances Kingston finds itself with a good budget that limits cash increases in Council Tax and preserves the services that most matter to residents.

Lib Dem Pantomime season

At the Council meeting there was the usual pantomime of the opposition pretending they knew what the budget said and therefore proposing a string of supposed changes that did little to improve services and merely acted as eye candy for their leaflets. To be fair, that is what oppositions do, but to be frank the cut-through this has with residents is so small as to almost not be worthwhile staying up for. However, for the record I better address some of the issues that they raised.

Green bags for food waste 

They believe we should give them out for free because otherwise no one will recycle food waste. It costs over £200k a year to provide these and what we hope to do is sell them through libraries. Personally, I don’t use them because the waste caddy I have in my kitchen is larger than the somewhat ugly Council one. There is no evidence that not providing food bags means recycling goes down, so let’s just wait and see. Incidentally, we do not provide black bin bags for free, so why should we do green ones?

Road maintenance 

We have not cut it, see the narrative at the beginning of this post.

Youth centre 

The youth service we inherited from the Lib Dems is not fit for purpose and is using very badly maintained buildings. You will find this unbelievable, but the last Lib Dem administration left the Youth service paying for a building in which there was absolutely no youth services taking place because they had closed them years ago. The economic viability for the buildings is critical, but so is providing a better youth service - that is our ambition. That does not mean we will not see future youth provision at the sites that are earmarked for closure as we most certainly will, it will just be different.

Neighbourhood grants 

We have now given each Councillor a £2k allowance for grants that they can give to projects, bureaucracy free.

Care charges 

We are out to consultation on the care charges issue and we will see what comes back, but to make changes before we have completed it (especially when the Lib Dems ramped up the charges themselves a few years ago) would be a waste of resource.

Chamber of Commerce 

It seems the Lib Dems have made this a political football. However, no one is saying that they should not get the money, just that it needs to be linked to the Economic Development Plan. They are still in the Guildhall occupying an office and they will continue to be there.

Dysart school 

We have already told the school that the money would be found, that is not the issue. The issue is that they wish to become an Academy on 1 April and as such the Council will no longer own the land they wish to put the turning circle on and therefore the school need to sort out the legal aspects of this. It does not need a separate budget proposal. I am dissapointed by both the school and the Lib Dems that between them they have sought to politicise vulnerable children in this way.

Care home to temporary accommodation 

The Lib Dems raised this with us at a recent meeting and we have said that as part of the options on the building we will do an appraisal of the building and see what can be done with it. We have started that appraisal, but it is not finished, so we need to see what comes out of that before making a decision.

Cutting Kingston Futures money 

This is where it gets really surreal. Kingston Futures is a Council project set up by the Lib Dems to drive growth. It is also the organisation that will write the next Local Development Plan that will be used as the policy guide for development in the Borough. Cutting this is simply bonkers and will leave it very difficult to shape the future development of our town without robust planning policy. 

One of my favourite quotes in the new Kingston Future brochure is the one in my introduction:

“At a time when many town centres are struggling, we are determined to keep investment, visitors and employment opportunities heading in our direction. I invite and encourage you to join us on that journey.” Cllr Liz Green, Leader of the Opposition, Royal Borough of Kingston

Is it not odd? how immediately before the last election in 2014 the Leader of the Council (at that time Lib Dem Cllr Liz Green) who was responsible for driving the growth agenda, Kingston Futures and the Opportunity Area planning framework could say the above about Kingston and yet at a budget meeting in opposition, attempts to cut away the very funding the Council needs to give residents the protection the Lib Dems failed to give them in their years of control of the Council. You cannot but feel it is time for fresh leadership in the Lib Dems if they are ever to escape their failed past because they are certainly going backwards under current management. For my fruitier comments on their proposals you can click here.

Still, I suppose some call that “just politics”.