At last night's full council meeting, Cllr Paul Doughty, Strensall ward councillor and Conservative Group Leader, proposed our amendment to the Lib Dem - Green Party 2021/22 City of York Council budget. Alas, it was not adopted but Cllr Doughty raised excellent points on the need to return to a focus on key services rather than wasteful spending and how cutting bureaucracy could help limit the council tax burden on residents after a difficult year.
His speech in full:
Thank you Lord Mayor. We continue to be in unprecedented times as the pandemic has changed the way we do many things and so many people have suffered such hardship. However it is pleasing that the government has continued to do so much with more than £20 million in pandemic support to the council and a near £7 million annual funding boost.
I have asked in the past for what spending plans the Lib Dems have changed due to the pandemic and continue not to have received answers. They continue to protest that it is back to the bones in finance at the same time as we look at some of the highly questionable funding projects financed in the city. We also look at the vast waste we have seen including the eye watering overspend on the Community Stadium where it looks like every word of every contract was written in favour of the builders and commercial firms, the never-ending chopping and changing of the road network to hit car users as well as of course the likes of the payoff of the previous Chief Executive.
The pandemic has seen a huge shift in home working which will change the way things are for years ahead and can save on office space and also improve the work life balance for many. I welcome that the administration is looking at improved West Office working, as suggested in last year’s Conservative budget amendment.
I am aware I am speaking to an audience limited in numbers, not just with it being improbable many are watching at home. But more so with the Lib Dems, Labour and Greens signed up to always tax residents as much as possible, Cllr Dave Taylor unlikely to have abandoned socialism quite yet and the so called York Independents opposing any word a Conservative councillor utters, I would expect I will have Cllr Rowley’s support and am really therefore addressing my speech and appeal for support to the fountain of wisdom and reason that is Cllr Warters.
It strikes me as incredible that with council tax being probably the most regressive tax there is the overwhelming majority of York’s councillors so happily look to increase it by the maximum legal amount. Of course just 0.01% more would mean they need to check it’s what the people want, strangely they don’t favour putting that to the people. Just like they didn’t dare put their own Councillor allowance increases to the people either while they raise taxes.
The council’s own consultation, even with the usual leading questions quite arguably gives no justification for any increase in council tax and certainly not for the legal maximum. The fact that many people had still to get their so called consultation leaflet when the Lib Dems announced their plans for the budget says it all.
Now more than ever we must keep costs low as people feel the pinch and job insecurity is likely to be an issue facing millions in 2021. Every single penny the council spends someone has worked hard to earn and we need a council that delivers good basic services and looks after the most vulnerable not this Lib Dem and Green mess.
The Conservative amendment is based on merely hours of our time and conversations with finance officers on deliverability. It is a demonstration of what we want and certainly not a perfect vision as we do not have the administration’s vast staff resources. We again show we would cost less in council tax and cut the cost of politics as well as reducing bureaucracy to focus on improvements at the frontline. We do this at the same time as protecting the extra support for adult social care.
We have added additional funding for pothole repairs on top of what the Council proposes, this issue regularly tops surveys amongst residents and we repeat our proposed £75,000 new fund for improvements in rural travel, an area totally ignored by the administration as they focus on the city centre. We also repeat our call for an additional green waste collection to cover Christmas trees as this administration continues to talk the talk more than walk the walk over recycling.
We would also fund 40 additional new street benches including for the city centre but also areas like Haxby and Acomb shops. There is a general lack of places to sit in many areas of York, very noticeable through social distancing and where the new benches are near shops they could give a little extra boost to business. Related to this budget line we would spend £10,000 annual maintenance on improving the state of benches, a lot of which are looking really shabby and in need of a repaint or varnish.
As I have already said, I know only one non Conservative councillor at most who will even consider the idea that council spend comes from hardworking people and that it should therefore be kept low. However our amendment shows what we would do and I would urge others and the broader York population to look at the choice on offer.