Last night the Council met in an Extraordinary Meeting (Council speak for an extra meeting) to debate and vote on the Conservative Administrations Budget.
In the past the Green and Rochford District Residents Group has put forward opposition amendments to the budget, only to see them voted down but then resurrected as Administration proposals a few years later. This year we did not put forward any amendments on the night, although we did work on our own budget process internally.
The finances of the Council, imposed by Conservative cuts from Central Government, meant that there was a £845k gap in the 2018/19 budget, and a £1.8M gap by 2021. The gap for 2018/19 was met by efficiency savings and additional income of £851k. However the Administration still decided that they needed to raise an additional £200k through a 2.98% rise in Council Tax which has gone directly into reserves.
Cllr Mr John Mason led the opposition responses, emphasising that the budget gap has been created by Conservative Policy Centrally forcing cuts in services. This was echoed by Cllr Hookway who also reminded the Administration that it wasn’t easy for many households to find this extra money.
Cllr Newport also spoke about the problems of past decisions, particularly the transfer from reserves last year of £264,000 to plug a problem in an ICT project which we are legally not allowed to talk about.
I raised the issue of Trust, the budget has £4.5M in reserves, including £3.2M in a Hard/Soft Infrastructure fund. This is a fund we do not know what the Tories want to do with, they will not make it public. Residents do not know what this large amount of money is to be used for, what has already been used, what return is expected from it, what risks are being taken with it. This is wrong. I also raised the point of how we can trust an Administration which gets things wrong so often.
Few Tories spoke and the Council Tax increase of 2.98% was approved 22-13.