Sunday, February 21, 2010

Basildon District Council Budget

Last Thursday was the annual budget meeting at Basildon Council, where we set the financial direction for the future and the level of the Council Tax. Of course, the backdrop for this is the worst recession ever, which has hit many people very hard. With people losing their jobs or suffering from wage cuts or freezes we did not think we could push through an extortionate tax rise, and so we only put the tax up by 0.9%. This was the second lowest level in Essex, the lowest in Basildon for over a decade and one of the lowest in the country. Astonishingly, the Labour party disagreed, suggesting that we should have asked local people for more money, though they didn't actually suggest how much. Their argument was that putting alternative proposals was a waste of time because we would only vote them down. Well, when we were in opposition we certainly put forward alternative proposals, so that local people had a real alternative spelled out to them and so that we understood how the Council finances actually worked. If Labour were to regain control of the Council after having got into the habit of doing no work at all then I do wonder how they would cope.

As well as criticising us for setting a low level of Council Tax, Labour also didn't like the size of the Council reserves. These really aren't enormous given the size of the projects we undertake and the risks that come with them, but it appears that money cannot appear on a balance sheet without the Labour party wanting to spend it. For example, we took a risk of about £850, 000 in order to fix the lifts and stairs in Basildon Town Centre after the private company involved went bust. As it turned out, we eventually did obtain the funding from another source, but there was no guarantee of that. If we hadn't had reserves then we couldn't have considered it, and so with Labour Basildon would have had a permanent building site in one of its main shopping locations.

Maybe their parents didn't teach them that saving for a rainy day was a good thing.