Last night saw the Budget passed by a full meeting of the Council. The Labour Group made some minor amendments that would have ameliorated the worst affects of the budget, but only in a small way. You can read our alternative proposal here. The meeting was one of the more serious efforts by Councillors on all sides. It had to be with such deep cuts being pushed through. It was sad to see the Conservative Councillors clapping the budget being passed. It surely can not be a happy day for anyone to see a budget that will see so many services cut back so quickly?
I shall return to the issues below in more detail over the coming weeks.
Below I reproduce the speech that I gave.
Thank You Madam Mayor,
The Labour budget proposal is not where we would be starting from. It is a Conservative led government that is cutting so quickly and so deeply. Blame needs to be placed where it belongs, in the main, with Eric Pickles and David Cameron.
But I am not letting this Conservative Council off the hook. Not at all.
Locally it is about choices and about priorities.
Only a weak council would conduct an Arts Consultation that they had no intention of ever listening to.
Only a weak council would propose shutting half of our local libraries and ask the communities of Croydon to pit their local library against libraries that serve other communities.
The people have spoken across Croydon, hundreds have turned out on street protests and public meetings to protect these essential public services.
Labours shadow budget includes £200,000 more for the Arts. A small way of saying how important we consider they are for Croydon’s future. Savings have to be made, but it is how these savings are made which is the difference between our political parties.
Next year the Council Tax payer will be spending at least £10.5million on Libraries, Arts and Cultural provision in Croydon.
Yet You have closed down the Clocktower and you have no plans in place to support the Warehouse Theatre. You have no vision. You have no plan.
Front Line First. Labour seeks a programme that puts the skilled staff delivering the service first.
An example is the efficiency that is the Upper Norwood Library. For a total budget of £400,000 they deliver a busy vibrant library. The vast majority of that budget is spent on the Front Line.
On the Good Library Blog Croydon was named and shamed as spending 46% of its Library budget in 2008/9 on overheads.
The UK average is 13.1% (Source CIPFA via Good Library Blog)
A Labour Council would have no truck with replacing skilled librarians with volunteers nor would we undermine their terms and conditions of employment.
A Labour Council would work over the next two years to replicate the efficiencies of Upper Norwood Library throughout the Borough. We would form Co-operative Trusts that would involve local councillors, staff and the community to deliver first class library services in their locality
Take Coulsdon, we could harness the energy and commitment of the local people and form a community Trust with its own budget to run both of their libraries. We would give local ward councillors a real opportunity to help plan and run their local library. This is in stark contrast to the current administration who have refused to allow local councillors to serve on Upper Norwood Library Committee.
In this way we would remove obscene back office costs and enable the Council to deliver localised services at the same time as protecting borough assets like the Clocktower and our community halls.
This service can sustain some budget reductions, but IT is vital that those reductions are taken in the back office and support functions. I fear that this Council is not up to that challenge and will plough on regardless.
But I appeal to you all, to join with us and Put the Front Line First.
Madam Mayor, I support the amended budget.