In a recent letter to the Stevenage Comet, Liberal Democrat Group Leader on Stevenage Borough Council, Robin Parker, who is also a county councillor on Hertfordshire County Council, explains what happened at the budget meetings of the two councils on 23 and 24 February 2010. These are the meetings which fix your Council Tax.

Although the Comet printed Robin’s letter, unbelievably they had ignored the Hertfordshire County Council budget meeting, which decides on 78% of your Council Tax!

Letter to The Comet:

In your recent report about the Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) budget setting meeting, you correctly reported that I said if the savings implemented in the last two years had been done when I first suggested them, as long ago as 1984, the town’s council tax payers would have had the benefit for over 25 years. In answer to my question “Why weren’t all these savings made decades ago?” you correctly quote the council’s ruling group Labour leader as saying “You were on the council and I wasn’t, so I have no idea.” Whilst it is true that she has been on the council relatively only a few years, it is absurd of her to claim such ignorance, because I have told her previously in council that the reason is because, for many years, the Labour majority refused to take any notice of what I said, and indeed laughed at my suggestion, in the 1980s, of even a 2% efficiency saving. Serious efficiency savings did not start until about two years ago, and as a result the cuts have had to be far greater than if the problem of overspending had been tackled years ago.

Welcome though the freeze in council tax this year is, in 2009 the Liberal Democrat group wanted a 10% cut in councillors’ allowances, which would have enabled a 2% cut in Stevenage Borough’s council tax in 2010/2011, but we were voted down by all the Conservative and Labour councillors.

You seem to have ignored the Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) budget setting meeting, which is a pity because almost 80% of local council tax goes to HCC. The main opposition to the ruling Conservative group there is the 17 strong Liberal Democrat group and, for the record, we suggested identified savings on HCC self publicity, contracts and management. We wanted this re-directed to maintenance of highways including foot ways, improved repair of roads following the enormous winter damage, more gully cleansing, introduction of 20 mph zones near some schools, more frequent bus services and more youth provision, amongst other things. The savings would have balanced this spending, thus preserving the zero council tax increase. The Conservative councillors voted us down, however, and the three Labour councillors abstained.

One advantage of a long memory in politics is that it can help to put recent events in context, but despite this I do hope that we do not have to wait another 25 years for the Liberal Democrats to be proved right at HCC as well as at SBC.

Robin Parker

Leader, SBC Liberal Democrats and Chells county councillor on HCC.