Budget Response – Cllr Kate Chinn Leader of the Labour Group and the opposition – Epsom & Ewell Borough Council – 15 Feb 2022
First of all I would like to say thank you to the officers who helped me write this speech by providing the figures.
Officers have worked relentlessly and tirelessly throughout the last two challenging years.
There has been the finance team managing the unpredictable fluctuations in the budgets: Revenues and benefits managing the different grants and constant changes, the housing and community teams tasked with bringing every rough sleeper inside. A huge increase in workload. How many risk assessments needed writing, checking, and coordinating I managed just two and that took long enough?
A tough time indeed and officers still managing to achieve and make positive differences in our residents’ lives. Services continued: – the bins were emptied the streets were cleaned, venues coming back as quickly as possible and community services rapidly returning. Also new services the youth hub and the planning for the food pantry. I can’t mention everything and everyone but I would like to say a special thank you to the officers who I spoke to about two or three residents who have struggled terribly because of the pandemic for various reasons. The officers went that extra mile to support them speaking to them and adapting services to effectively provide them with the support they need – so thank you.
Mr Mayor, there will be huge challenges for the council next year. The levelling up agenda whatever that means : we know that this Tory government will not be providing money where it’s needed but to the red wall seats to shore up their vote.
As my friend and fellow Labour Cllr in Medway Vince Maple said on Politics South East on Sunday:-
“They’re passing the buck rather than passing the bucks”
(I have thanked him for the quote)
When they do they pass them on it’s to their own: – £333,000 to Lord Sage to repair a damaged road on his estate. It beggars’ belief!
Closer to home:-
The residents of Epsom and Ewell, along with everyone else in the country, are facing a huge rise in the cost of living and for some it will be catastrophic.
Heating costs up by £700 per annum for a typical household.
Food bills up by 5 % as a very conservative estimate.
National Insurance up by £400 a year for a typical household.
A cost of living shock for all but particularly hard on residents with the lowest incomes pushing some into a choice of keeping warm or putting food on the table.
Epsom and Ewell Borough council want to add to this pressure by increasing council tax in the borough by 2.38%. This is in addition to the increases to be imposed by the police and the Tory Surrey County council’s 4.99%.
I will undoubtedly be advised, hopefully not so patronisingly this time , that the council needs revenue. I know and unlike Mr Johnson, I do get it, when things need to change. I can suggest ways this council can increase revenue.
- Review of venues and properties
And reducing costs
- Tackling Homelessness
First of all
I have been a proponent of revenue from enforcement for some time. When I suggested it a while since I was advised this wasn’t a good idea with no evidence. I’m delighted to see it in the latest members briefing. Why don’t we charge people for the choices they make? Individual’s decisions can have a positive or negative affect on the whole community.
For example, driving into the town centre. Yes of course we need to do it for a big shop, buying heavy items and for many other reasons. I’m not judging, I do it . However we can choose the cars we drive, the frequency we drive in and the vehicle we use for example in a gas guzzling Chelsea tractor or a fancy sports car as a status symbol are choices many people can make.
As an aside where I’ve never understood the rationale :-
(Disabled people may not have that choice so charging for Blue Badge Holders and giving away Christmas parking when the shops will be full anyroad is an anathema. The latter losing revenue and the former charging people who don’t have a choice to park in a place that makes the town accessible for them.)
More parking enforcement is much needed. Residents are unhappy demonstrated by how often it is discussed on Next Door. In the evenings in particular it’s a free for all, parking on double yellow lines and just last night two cars parked on the High St with all four wheels on the pavement.
Dropping litter: – again, a choice, put it in the bin or drop it. A few well publicised fines for dropping your fag end, which by the way is full if toxins, or your fast food litter will soon make people think twice. Clearing up after your dog is another choice. One of my sons was an FA ref in Alex Rec. He went half an hour early every game to clear the pitch of dog faeces. It’s a huge issue and often mentioned on the #labourdoorstep, The council should call it out and enforce action wherever possible, look at different ways of identifying the culprits, a few big fines and word gets around!!
The businesses:- we all know the ones whose customers are more likely to drop their fast food wrappers. Can they take more corporate responsibility and pay towards the cost of keeping the town clean and tidy?
Like reducing car use it isn’t a long term solution for raising revenue as the littering would hopefully soon reduce and eventually stop.
However, it gives the members a breathing space to consider other innovative and ground-breaking ways of increasing revenue.
Epsom Playhouse: – am I the only person who thinks it’s a bit of a tired outdated model. The Labour Group would like to see a full review of what sells and what doesn’t. Comedy, theatre, choral recitals what’s needed more of and what isn’t popular and should be reduced or stopped? Can the building be reconfigured in some way to utilise the areas better particularly the top floor which is no longer used. A radical blue sky evidenced based review is needed. Maybe it does it have a place in the town increasing footfall and therefore spending so not to close it down but to turn it around.
Bourne Hall – I mention it every year and of course I accept that the pandemic has stopped progress in reviewing the venue. On the last page of the Budget Book, yes, I did check it all, a massive nearly £1 million pounds is allocated next year, not for a full refurbishment, but to keep it half decent and structurally sound. It soon swallows the £165 000 raised by the proposed increase in council tax.
Again a full review and decisions made for its future use and this time the council needs to deliver.
The Town Hall
Hybrid working when appropriate to manage the service and support staff, is surely the way forward for all office workers utilising hot desking to dramatically reduce the need for office space. Will the Town Hall still be needed or could staff move to the currently empty properties on East St and Parkside House? These are options for consideration.
The Town hall could be knocked down and homes built that are settled homes and affordable for the residents on Epsom and Ewell.
Hook Road Arena
Currently predominantly used for a car boot sale and an annual fireworks display. How about building on it a sports and community hub and the much needed homes for residents?
This brings me onto reducing costs.
This is an area where The Residents Association have let our residents down. Specifically, Mr Mayor, the cost of housing people in out of borough nightly paid accommodation which is unacceptable and in the long term unsustainable. Not just a financial cost but the emotional cost to people being moved away from their friends, families and support networks.
At the last budget council meeting I reported that only 20% of houses built in the previous year were affordable. In the last year it’s been a derisory 3%
The RA urgently needs to plan for the borough to house its residents and work force and that can only be done by providing homes people can afford to live in and settle in. The housing team have done a really good job to ensure as few people as possible are housed temporarily outside the borough but a plan is needed for the delivery of a settled housing route for these residents.
If actions equated to the will to tackle homelessness our residents could be forgiven for thinking the RA don’t care. Words are not enough. This Council currently led by the RA needs to lead by taking action to address the known and growing homelessness and housing issues we face.
These are not all new ideas some are, and I hope that this time members remember they heard it all from the Labour group first and that the Labour Group’s foresight and grasp of the challenges the council faces will be acknowledged and agreed.
Mr Mayor, the Labour Group have forward thinking ideas and ways to manage the budget to support our residents in these incredibly difficult and challenging times.
I presume the members have seen the polls and how the Labour party’s share of the vote is rapidly increasing. From May next year Epsom and Ewell may well be led by Labour Cllrs. Using their own ideas and learning from other Labour lead administrations I have no doubt that we will manage to increase revenue without constantly going to our residents as the first port of call.
Until then the members must work together to meet the challenges and look at the hard decisions that need to be made now while there is time to choose the ones that can cut costs sensibly and not the ones with the most immediate impact. The members can and must make things the best they can be for the residents of Epsom and Ewell.
Mr Mayor, the officers manage the budget and do so very well indeed, but the members need to make the decisions on how to cut the coat according to the cloth.
Mr Mayor, in conclusion the Labour Group does not believe that hard working residents should bear the burden of this Tory government’s incompetence and the Residents Associations’ disregard of the needs of Epsom and Ewell residents. The Labour Group will therefore not be voting in favour of raising the council tax this year.