Liberal Democrats condemn Labour's approach to cuts


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The blame for the cuts lies mainly with the Conservative Government, but the Labour Council's handling of things is making them worst.

Rather than balancing the books by cutting assets we argue more should be done to look at how we can generate an income to reduce cuts to public services.

Calderdale Council has to take urgent action to balance its books.

The fault for these cuts predominantly lie with the Conservative Government who have continued to cut funding to local Government. To make matters worst the pandemic has resulted in extra costs and a loss in officer capacity to deal with the pre-existing financial problems. Rather than helping Council's that provide vital public services the Conservatives have just announced they are not going to provide us with a clear three-year financial settlement. This makes it very difficult for any Local Council to make plans for the future when there is just so much uncertainty with funding.

Labour like to make out the blame for this lies all with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. However, in 2010 all political parties argued there needed to be some cuts. Labour politicians such as Alasdair Darling said they would cut more than Thatcher did. In 2010 there was too much fat in Local Government, but we are now cutting to the bone. 

Locally Labour have argued that they handled the initial cuts well. In 2019 Cllr Tim Swift  the Leader of the Council said "”I am proud that in Calderdale, so far we have been able to protect vital services such as children’s centres; improve children’s services; and give a sense of hope with vital investment for the future. But unless national policy changes, continued cuts in funding could put vital local services at risk." We agree that the Liberal Democrat & Labour Coalition that ran Calderdale from 2010 onwards, and then the minority Labour administration that we helped to keep in check didn't do too badly at managing cuts.

We also agree 100% with Cllr Tim Swift that the Conservatives cuts are now putting services at risk.

However rather than protecting us from the cuts the Labour administration's handling of the current financial crisis is making them worst.

Lacking Transparency, Failing to work with others and Keeping Cuts Hidden from Voters

In their 2020/21 budget for Calderdale Labour stated there would need to be over '£2M worth of cuts to be identified’. They failed to name what would be cuts as they knew they would be an election liability. Now they are trying to rush through cuts via Cabinet decisions and avoid the scrutiny of Full Council. In this sense they are acting in the same way as Boris Johnson and his Government who avoid Parliamentary scrutiny of their Coronavirus regulations. Identifying savings sooner would have resulted in better financial planning.

Opposition groups have offered to work with the administration, but they have declined to work with us. Most of the 51 Councillors you elect are excluded from any decision-making with a tiny handful of Labour Councillors that form the cabinet making all the cuts. This is leading to poor decision-making. Many Liberal Democrats in our Council group have experience of running successful businesses. All our knowledge and expertise is being wasted.

The Leader of the Council is meant to publish a forward plan of all decisions. However, cuts have either been omitted from any forward plans or they have been obscured by burying them in Cabinet Papers with names such as the ‘Future Council Delivery Plan’. In November 2020 the Council published a blank key decision list for the next three months - https://www.calderdale.gov.uk/council/councillors/democracy/key-decisions/index.jsp. Is Councillor Tim Swift seriously suggesting that in the next three months his administration will make no key decisions?

Staff at the Mixenden Activity Centre have found out the centre is going too close and that their jobs are at risk via the press. This is a disgusting way for any employer to announce redundancies to staff. We need advance notice of what is proposed to be cut, so we can properly research the areas and explore all the alternative ways to save money or generate more income.

Failing to do Equalities Impact Assessments Before Decesions are made

The Council has a public sector equalities duty to carry out equalities impact assessments on financial decisions. Guidance from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission states 'The general equality duty requires public authorities to have due regard to the aims of the general equality duty when making decisions and setting policies'. Yet the cabinet of the Council is saying it will do equalities impact assessments AFTER the cabinet paper and its reccomendations are agreed. It is impossible that they have considered their public sector equality duty of they have not consisdered the equalities impacts BEFORE decesions are made.

In the Guidance issued to public sector financial decesion makers the Commision states: 'Assessments of the impact on equality must be carried out at a formative stage so that the assessment is an integral part of the development of a proposed policy, not a later justification of a policy that has already been adopted'

 

Labour Running Budget Deficits and Lacking business sense

Labour’s budgets over recent years have all run a deficit. This has meant that the Council’s reserves have been run down. Although we accept the point you would not want vast reserves going unused whilst services were being cut, you also shouldn't delay making difficult decisions. The longer you delay the worst the financial position becomes. The Chartered Institute of public finance & Accountancy produces a Financial Resilience Index of all local authorities. They identify the current levels of reserves and changes in reserves for the local authority as high risk areas.

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Running Budget Deficits and running down reserves builds up larger problems for the future. Take your own household income. If you were eating into your savings every month then the sooner you took action to reduce costs or increase income the better. The Council is no different.

As you can see the Council has a relatively low debt burden. This does suggest there is scope to borrow to help fund changes that would be required to implement a commercialization agenda on the Council.

When it comes to running things efficiently it is clear no one in the current administration has any business sense. To give you an example they have managed to rack up losses of £63K a year from running car boot sales. They own the land, and they just need to collect money from people coming in, rent out some space for some food stalls and provide a few staff to manage it. Instead, they had staff working on overtime rates and breaking EU working time directives. Is it any wonder illegally overworked staff on overtime pay are raking up losses? When the markets service was looked at from the internal audit it got a 'weak' rating. There were poor financial controls in place for the collection of money. Only an incompetent Labour administration could lose £60K a year of taxpayers money on running car boot sales.

Liberal Democrat proposals for a green, efficient, and commercially minded Council would improve the authority’s income and mean fewer cuts to public services.

The Local Government Association has produced a best practice map of commercialisation. Commercialisation is the practice of looking at the Council’s assets and services and exploring ways in which an income can be generated from them. This income is then available for the authority to spend on delivering public services that we all rely on.

We know that Local Government has had large amounts of funding cut by Government. We can protest about the cuts, and we can blame the Government but this is unlikely to change anything. What we can do as a Local Authority is focus on improving our own approach to commercialisation. Here are some ideas of what it might mean in practice:

Improving income from our buildings.

  • Manor Heath Jungle experience costs just £1 to get in. We believe with a capital investment in the experience this could easily be turned into a tourist attraction that generated an income for the Council. The same is true of Shibden Hall and some of our Museums.
  • The Council could modernise and market its wedding services. We have fantastic historic buildings such as the Town Hall, Registry Office and Clay House for wedding venues.
  • Renting out Council space. =- The Town Hall makes for an impressive meeting venue we should look to commercialise the opportunities to rent out space rather than letting it sit empty. We also often have office space that sits empty.

Providing Support Services to Schools, Businesses and Charities

  • The Council already provides commercial services to Schools. This service should be improved and marketed.
  • We should look to expand the services we offer in areas such as HR support, Training, ICT, compliance advice and consultancy to the NGO and Charitable Sectors and to business start-ups.
  • Pest Control & waste services – The Council should look to commercialise and promote its pest control services and expand things like garden waste services and bulky waste services as commercial enterprises.

Empowering people to contribute directly

  • We would introduce a community lottery scheme with revenue raised locally going towards small grants. This would remove the requirement to fund small grants directly from Council Tax Income
  • Introduce a system of voluntary additional Council Tax Payments. In practice this would work by offering people the opportunity to donate to different funds. For example, you could pay an extra £1 a month to contribute to a tree planting scheme or £5 a month to help fund our work with homeless people. Both Labour and Conservative Councils elsewhere in the Country have introduced these schemes.
  • Introduce a Council Crowdfunding site where community projects can be directly funded by residents.

Reviewing existing fees

The Council currently charges fees for a range of services. We would review these to ensure that prices reflected the market value of the services being provided.

We do not have a monopoly on ideas for the Local Authority to generate more of an income and therefore cut fewer services. There are plenty of people in Calderdale with business expertise. We call on the Labour administration to make use of this business expertise to reduce cuts to public services.


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