Borrowing £300 million ‘not the way to plug looming Residents’ Association council deficit’
Labour councillor Kate Chinn replied to the RA’s budget for Epsom and Ewell today:
“It must have been a difficult task putting this budget together after the cuts and uncertainty created by this Tory government,” said Labour councillor Kate Chinn. She addressed the council and explained why her party would not support Epsom’s Residents’ Association (RA) budget for 2018/2019 presented on Tuesday, February 20.
She pointed out that there had been a loss of Revenue Support Grant and acknowledged that Surrey County Council has been granted membership of a pilot scheme to retain its business rates, but “there is still no clarity for the future.”
Cllr. Chinn also expressed alarm at a budget hole looming in two years’ time when the RA plans to have borrowed “up to £300m” to buy rental property.
“The Tories are an extremely ideologically-driven government. We’ve just had Conservative county councillors claiming victory for saving the 166 Bus Route. That’s great. And well done the London Mayor for getting Surrey County Council to pay for services for Surrey residents.
“But this government is driving people into poverty and destitution – without homes, without food on the table and unable to afford fuel to keep themselves warm.
“I’m angry that we live in an increasingly divided society. Angry that nearly 12,000 people have used the food banks in Epsom and Ewell.
“Angry that our young people will no longer have similar or better lives than their parents. Angry that young people can no longer afford to live settled lives in the borough.
“We must remember Epsom and Ewell needs young people to settle here, otherwise the town will die.”
Cllr. Chinn believes that this council should not exacerbate the negative impact of this government’s actions of forcing people further and further into debt by:
1. Delays to universal credit and sanctioning people for not attending Job Centre appointments while in hospital;
2. Levying the bedroom tax on people who can’t find smaller houses to move into due to high demand for borough housing, and
3. Rents constantly being raised to unaffordable levels, forcing families in the borough into homelessness.
Labour did support many aspects of the budget, but Cllr. Chinn warned: “As we approach next year’s elections, there is a suspicion of electioneering. Buried in the figures, we can see the council’s finances fall off a cliff in 2020, coincidentally after residents have gone to the polls…
“Big decisions related to service cuts have been kicked into the long grass, the RA hoping that residents won’t notice and praying for a miracle to happen in 2020. The RA haven’t fooled anyone.”
“Being a responsible opposition, not only is it our job to hold the RA to account but, also, because it will be our problem when we take over the running of the Council in 2019.
“Remember it was not the Labour Party that caused the financial crisis of 2008, but reckless lending and borrowing.”
The Labour group noted the RA council’s continued heavy borrowing in the past year – £80m at last year’s council budget meeting. In September the council set up a property investment company to borrow £300 million over the next three years – a disproportionate amount considering the council’s budget.
“The council purchased a commercial property in Marlow. Yes the council gets an income, but this property can’t be seen as a community asset to Epsom and Ewell. The government has expressed concerns about councils borrowing large amounts to purchase properties outside of their borough.
“It could change the rules at the drop of a hat. In the same way that people have stopped buying diesel cars, maybe it would be best to concentrate on investments providing assets to and for the borough the council is directly responsible.
“The borough needs to reduce spending without cutting services and without raising council tax. It can be done and here are some modest, but we think sensible, proposals. Remember there was only one party [Labour] which presented the country with a fully costed manifesto at last year’s general election.
“We appreciate the Playhouse, but it can’t just suck up money year after year. In January Community and Wellbeing looked at the results of a scrutiny review and, yes, there will be a plan of action. I requested a review of the results next year.”
Without further scrutiny it becomes like an old school report: ‘must do better, but with no plan how to make this happen.’
“We applaud the reduction in the cost of homelessness and, if the council builds homes for people to live in that they can afford, this adds assets and improves lives in so many ways for residents: a settled home to live in, to raise a family in if you wish to, and to send your children to local schools.
“To work in or commute from the borough and to spend your leisure time in the borough, more than any other measure home building would revitalise the town. It would add to our town’s vibrancy. We urge the members to commit to building homes for their residents.”
Continuing her theme, Kate Chinn said: “The borough needs to be more aspirational. Last month the Chief Executive of Woking told us what they have achieved for their town by providing the community with what a community needs to improve people’s quality of life.
“The members need to have hopes, dreams and aspirations. Let’s celebrate the borough’s strengths and culture. “Residents of Epsom and Ewell want to build a statue for Emily Wilding Davison in the town centre. Can the council take a lead in making this happen to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of women – some not all – getting the vote?
“In Court Ward the plan for Horton Chapel, which I’m sure the members will be wholly behind, is a project which would be such an asset to the borough. The Hollymoor site is finally being built on to provide homes for the residents of Epsom and Ewell.
“If the Labour group can make these things happen in Court Ward, this council can and must make things happen in the wider borough.
“The Labour Group is on the side of the residents of Epsom and Ewell – and will be voting against this budget this evening.”