At the full council meeting of Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) on 25.2.2015, a freeze in the SBC share of the council tax was agreed unanimously.
However, it followed a call over a month ago, at the Scrutiny Overview Committee (SOC) on 21.1.2015, by Opposition Leader Liberal Democrat, Robin Parker, that the SOC should recommend such a freeze to full council – a move which was met with stony silence by the 9 Labour and 1Tory councillors present at SOC, none of whom then supported his freeze proposal.
Speaking on the full council budget, Robin said “It must have been that, back in January, a rise of 2% really was planned – otherwise why would it have been in the papers for the SOC meeting? – and that my intervention embarrassed or forced Labour
into a freeze. It would seem that my cunning plan worked for the council tax payers of Stevenage. If no rise was planned all along, then there was no reason not to announce it weeks ago, unless of course Labour were up to their usual tricks of playing games and keeping a ‘shock’ freeze announcement until the last minute, as they have done many times previously.”
“If the Liberal Democrats can achieve this with 3 opposition councillors – imagine what we could do with more!”
“Also if the Tories at Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) on 24.2.2015 had accepted the main opposition’s (Liberal Democrat) fully costed proposals at their budget meeting then we would have had a council tax freeze on all parts of the bill, because the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) had already announced a freeze on his part of the bill.”
Other points made by Robin Parker (in what was his 31st budget reply speech) were:
- Whoever wins the election, further cuts in government grants to councils will continue because the deficit (of £5,000 extra borrowing per second) left by Labour has not yet been eliminated, although the Coalition have halved it, to about £2,500 a second.
- The council should strive to be independent of government grants, perhaps by some radical thinking, like vastly expanding our commercial services (work sold to the public or private sector).
- Council assets need to be used to best advantage, for example letting advertising space in communal areas of council premises.
- The need for less reliance on car park income – although the oft repeated charge of ‘rip off’ charges and the call for 3 hours free parking by the Conservative MP do not make financial sense and should be investigated and exposed.
- Labour’s plan (announced at the meeting) for reduced charges for Stevenage residents is a good idea but Liberal Democrats first called for it in 1984 – thus it has taken only 31 years for Labour to catch up with us.
- Cuts to frequency in the emptying of dog and litter bins need to be reversed.
- More flexibility with councillors’ Local Community Budgets (LCBs) is needed, to allow the budgets to be rolled forward and/or combined with other councillors in order to achieve a reasonable sized pot, to spend on a desirable capital project.
- SBC’s use of the Coalition Government’s New Homes Bonus (NHB) (projected to total over £1.26 million by 31.3.2016) has never been scrutinised and SOC should do this.
- Have the Labour council thought what we would do if we get a Labour government, who have already stated that they will abolish the NHB? (SBC is becoming reliant on this Coalition initiative.)
- We should not have a list of intended uses for the NHB dumped on the council by the Leader each year, like rabbits out of the hat – prior to budget night, the ideas for spending the NHB should be discussed by all councillors.