This seems very strange making a budget speech from home rather than in the Council Chamber. This year has been a very difficult time for our officers and us as Members having to find new ways of working. 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 change because having set an interim budget last year and then this final budget, the figures could change as we still do not know what the full implications of Covid19 will be.
We blame the Conservative Government for most of the difficulties because they have dilly-dallied with decision-making, causing problems for local government. For instance, at the start of the Covid19 outbreak they said all costs incurred by local government would be reimbursed, yet we still expect to have a deficit of about £2.5 million to find from balances over this year and next year.
The Conservative Government has also 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, an increase by CPI plus 1%. This has made it difficult for tenants to organise their finances and the council for funding improvements etc.
Also the Conservative Government causes us problems with new-build council properties in that after 5 years the tenant can purchase a new property with large discounts, therefore we lose a council property and also money – besides, they do not respond to this Council’s motions on right to buy.
Again, the Conservative Government has caused us issues with house building – 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 year. This was caused through two government departments not agreeing what should be done. The government wanted more houses built but English Nature objected because of the nitrates issue with its effect on The Solent. In addition to 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 lifestyle that Fareham residents want.
As a council we have committed ourselves to protect the environment, and therefore we must be very proactive in this area. We would suggest that an all-party committee be set up solely to scrutinise what actions the council is taking, so as to make sure we are proactive in this area. The future of our planet depends upon what everybody across the world does and we must make sure we do our part.
We would also suggest that we need to look at the use of this building – do we really need it!! In looking forward, our staff will probably do some home-working as well as work sometimes in the office. Therefore, we could sell the Civic Offices, giving us a capital gain, and locate to a much smaller building which is more environmentally friendly. This would also save the £3.741 million in the budgets for improvements to the Civic Offices.
We have concerns that the report on Trees has been put off from the beginning of this year to the end of the year. We believe that the planting of trees is very environmentally friendly and helps to reduce the CO2 in our atmosphere. We must plant a considerable number of extra trees each year, and we could work with the County to achieve this.
We also note that in our budgets there is still £8.035 million for a hotel in the town centre. As the original proposal seems to have gone away, we need to decide whether that money is still needed in the budget or could now be put to better use.
With people now shopping on-line and not visiting the High Street, we need drastically to 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.
- Major environmental improvements with the council leading the way with an all-party Scrutiny committee solely to deal with this; the committee could also look at having other interested members of the Public on it.
- Dealing with the need for housing but protecting our green open space between communities. Continue pressure on the Government to ensure their views are changed. Planning should be from the bottom up and not top down.
- Looking at all our office space requirements and looking at ways of reducing the costs. This issue could be linked to the all-party Scrutiny Committee on the Environment.
Finally, I would again like to thank all our officers for the hard work that they do and the support that they give to Members.
Councillor Roger Price
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group
Fareham Borough Council