JERMY'S JOURNAL: Norfolk County Council budget speech

Norfolk County Council Budget Speech – 22.02.16 I did not stand for election to cut services, or to reduce them. I didn’t stand for election to support redundancies or make the lives of the people of Thetford or indeed Norfolk more difficult than they already are. I stood for election and indeed I am involved in politics to help ensure all people in our communities are supported whenever that support is needed.

In short, like so many of here, for me being a Councillor is about improving people’s quality of life. It’s somewhat a juxtaposition then that In many ways I m relieved with the budget before us today. Quite frankly it could have been so much worse, but that said there s still numerous things that I would have preferred to not be in this budget.

But our preferences as Councillors count for little, they can merely shape, not define the final outcome. The ultimate determining factor is the financial envelope in which we have to work and given the commitment to austerity that the national government has adopted, that envelope is reducing. I look round to other Councils and what services they re being forced to cut, it soon dawns upon me how much worse still things could have been for us here in Norfolk.

In many other Council areas there s been some very significant cuts. Whether it be fire stations likely to close in Suffolk, significant bus service cuts in Hertfordshire or ending the mobile library service entirely in Cambridgeshire. It’s the nature of politics isn’t it that you have to blame whoever is in control and attach bad decisions to their leadership – the Conservative Group today obviously attempt to paint all of the cuts here in Norfolk on the Alliance, but lets face it, if things were different, and if the Conservative Group were running the Council, there would still be cuts needing to be made just like in those Conservative Councils I ve mentioned.

As far as I’m aware those councils didn’t have to spend millions on botched incinerator contracts. With that in mind, I’m not surprised our Conservatives don’t want to kick the can down the road – they want to incinerate it! And it s not just authorities in East Anglia: As this person outlines – and I quote: I was disappointed at the long list of suggestions floated in the briefing note to make significant cuts to frontline services that was the Prime Minister, commenting on Oxfordshire County Councils cuts. And as the Conservative Leader of Oxfordshire highlighted, Government grants there have fallen from 194million to 122million, a drop of 37% or 72 million in 5 years.
As Ian Hudspeth, the Conservative Leader of Oxfordshire highlights “these cuts are being driven centrally by the Government, who have reduced funding to local Councils”
As a report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation discovered, the cuts in some areas are so extreme that local authority provision is now being reduced to little more than social care, child protection and other core services, while the budgets for libraries, museums, galleries, sports facilities, small parks and playgrounds, children s centres, youth clubs, after-school and holiday clubs, planning and environmental quality have already been slashed to the point at which these can barely function.

Simarly, Conservative controlled LGA Councils have worked hard to shield residents from the impact of funding cuts. However, efficiencies cannot be remade or buildings resold, they say…. Report goes on to describe the services which bind our communities together and protect the most vulnerable…

Are being eroded. Now of course as an authority we should be looking to become more entrepreneurial, we should look to increase income opportunities, drive down costs and maximise efficiencies and much of that is already on being done but the cold hard truth of the matter is that if you cut funding to local services to the point which has happened, then services will inevitably suffer and residents will inevitably suffer too. I can only assume that this transition money is a recognition that the cuts have gone too far too quickly.

This is not the budget speech I’d like to give. I’d like to be able to argue for funding to be restored so that we can once again have a Norfolk Youth Service and a Connexions service that was cut by previous Conservative administrations, I’d like to be about to argue for County street lights out in my division to be switched back on after midnight – something which is of concern to people in my division who undertake shift work, and people who are concerned about the fear of crime. Or perhaps I could use my time to argue to the boost adult education service which has been cut in Thetford with the sale of Tanner House….

But I can’t. Given the context Mr Chairman, given where we are financially, I’m reluctantly prepared to support this budget as presented but not as an endorsement of austerity or the Governments contempt for local government but because I recognise I have a duty to perform as an elected member, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.

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