Tonight at Bridgwater Town Hall, Labour controlled Bridgwater Town Council became the latest Somerset council to pass a budget designed to protect their communities from the devastating cuts about to fall on them from the collapsing Somerset Unitary Authority. The budget sought to take control of key services like parks and gardens, play areas and street sweeping and to create twice the number of jobs currently at the Town Hall bringing the staff total to 52 . Town Council Leader Brian Smedley (Labour) described it as a ‘budget for jobs, services and assets’. The vote was 10-0 with the 2 Conservative councillors speaking against the budget but then abstaining.
Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour Westover)said at the meeting “This isn’t the budget that you should be scared of, that’s the one coming out of County Hall in 3 weeks time. This a a radical budget from a financially sound Town Council which saves jobs, protects services and preserves assets for the community. In one sense we have to do this – because of the county’s dire financial situation. We need to save jobs , assets and services But we also want to do this. We’ve been heading gradually this direction for a number of years. In fact since Bridgwater lost its borough status back in 1974. People know that in the 70s this was a prosperous market town with work and shops but ever since we lost control of our own town – first to Sedgemoor and now to Somerset Unitary – theres been a serious decline. This budget is the latest in a series of gradually taking back control measures so that we return to running our own affairs”
The Leader continued “It protects jobs – we more than double our work force – offering new opportunities to people in the town and at the same time saving the jobs of district and county staff who are facing the scrapheap after years of loyal service We save services – we take on the parks, the play areas and the street cleaning. If we didn’t they’d be locked up , unaccesible or cutback. Like the cctv which would be turned off, we keep it on. We preserve the heritage of the town through its assets so that future generations can continue to use them – the town hall, the art centre, st Matthews field, the docks.”
Fit for the Future
Concluding Cllr Smedley said “It will be confusing for some people who don’t follow local government closely and so just blame ‘the council’, whoever they think that might be. But the difference is crucial. We aren’t Sedgemoor Council – that’s gone. We arent Somerset County Council…that’s on the verge of collapse. We’re Bridgwater Town Council and we’re back! Somerset’s council tax will hit people in a few weeks time and that really will be a shocker. What we’re doing at town council – the lowest level of government and the closest to the people, is asking Bridgwater households to pay a couple of quid more a week for the services we need in our town and to do that now so that we’re fit and ready for the future – which will be a good one.”
The budget was seconded by Deputy Leader Cllr Kathy Pearce (Labour Westover) who said “This budget will reassure residents at this crucial time and it underpins the immense ammount of work done by Town Clerk David Mears to bring together a properly costed and considered budget which is value for money under serious circumstances. We feel responsible and we will be accountable for the outcome of this budget. But I for one feel proud, as someone Bridgwater born and bred, that we’re taking back control of our town. If we didn’t take these measures then the parks and play areas would be locked and the streets wouldn;t be cleaned. I’m pleased to second this.”
Chair of the Town Council Property Committee Cllr Tim Mander (Labour, Westover) said “This is a challenging time but we can’t stand back and not do anything. This will benefit the town and see improved services with parks and cleaning, see assets refurbished such as the Arts Centre and the Town Hall improving the cultural offer of the town. The Town Council should be applauded for stepping up to the mark.”
The key points of the budget can be found here.