BUDGET SPEECH 2022 By Councillor Roger Price, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Fareham Borough Council
Last year and this year have been very difficult times. Our officers and we as Members have had to find new ways of working, sometimes from home, sometimes via Teams. I would like to pay a special thanks to all our staff at all levels for continuing to provide the usual council services almost as normal.
Regarding the Budget, we will not be proposing any changes this year, but comment on areas effecting the provision of services.
The Conservative Government has mismanaged council house rents. Firstly, a number of years ago large increases to get to what was said to be a fair rent, then reduced rents annually and now, increase by CPI plus 1%. This has made it difficult for tenants to organise their finances and the council for funding improvements etc.
We are pleased and support the Council in building new local authority housing but the Conservative Government causes us problems with new build council properties in that after 5 years the tenant can purchase a new property with discounts, therefore we lose a very modern council property, which is built to the highest environmental standards.
Again the Conservative Government has caused us issues with house building in penalising us in calculating the 5-year land supply making us add an extra 20% instead of 5% because of lack of numbers being built in the last 2 years. We also had the Nitrates issue. Besides the effect on house numbers to be built this also affects our capital programme through lack of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) money being paid.
All in all, this Conservative government has made it impossible for this council to provide fully the services and the life style that Fareham residents want due to its bad decisions especially under so-called levelling up it is more like levelling down in this area by taking money from the South. Through government decisions we are not masters in our own house. Government must delegate more to local councils as they are much more in contact of the needs of their local communities.
This is particularly important at a time when trust in government has been seriously undermined by the actions of those at the very top who have callously ignored the rules we have all been following to protect our vulnerable citizens and our health service.
As a council, we have committed ourselves to protect the environment, therefore we must be very proactive in this area and a good start has been made and we are pleased to support this work. The future of our planet depends upon what everybody across the world does and we must make sure we do our part in taking the Fareham residents with us.
We still strongly believe that we should do more work in this area by bringing young people onto the Environment Scrutiny Panel or setting up a separate, young person’s Panel which includes schools and colleges which then feeds into the Scrutiny Panel.
We seriously believe that we need to look at the council’s Civic Offices and Council Depot with a view to making better use of these facilities and to investigate whether we need to set up a new Depot which could encompass all our office space requirements, therefore possibly leaving the Civic Offices to either be sold or let as an income stream which could save the £3.7 million for repairs if sold.
We note that the £8.035 million for an hotel in the town centre which we commented upon last year, has now been removed from the Capital Programme and therefore a saving on borrowing. Taking this out of the Capital Programme this has reduced the programme by around 17%.
With people now shopping on-line and not visiting the High Street we need to drastically look at our own shopping areas to see what can be done and what needs to be changed rather than having numbers of empty shops.
We see three major issues for the council looking forward.
- Work to get young people, schools and colleges involved with the environmental issues as it is their future which is at stake if we do not get it right.
- The town centre, through lack of people using the shops, needs to be seriously and urgently reviewed so as to make better use of the land which the council owns and continue to generate a good income.
- To reassess our use of our buildings, ie Civic Offices and Depot to urgently come to a conclusion of the best way forward so that we can achieve a reduction in expenditure.
Finally, I would again like to thank all our officers for their hard work and the support that they give to Members.