Today Sedgemoor District Council set its budget with no cuts to public services despite continued reductions in grant from central Government and members of all parties also voted to approve a Council Tax set of £5 per year on a Band D property amounting to 9p a week. After Council Leader Duncan McGinty (Con, E Polden) finished, Opposition leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Bridgwater Westover, Labour) stood up and gave his groups response saying “In the circumstances, this is a good budget. But lets look at those circumstances. This council has only been in place for some 8 months, the country is just 2 months into a new Tory Government and just 2 weeks into the unchartered waters of Brexit. It’s no wonder the Leader of Council looked nervous presenting this budget at this time. But it’s early days. With a horrible Tory Government in Westminster and an incompetant Tory administration at County, there’s a lot of pressure on Tory Sedgemoor to maintain services. So if they have done then we will support them, but at the same time hold them to account and see how they’ve got on this time next year”
Cllr Smedley said “The circumstances we’re looking at here include the ending of direct central government funding through the RSG (revenue support grant) and therefore the consequent need to generate income locally. So, we can see that Sedgemoor, which has a good team of officers who are on top of their budgets are trying to tackle all the key areas that we would want them to budget for.
-We want them to be tackling homelessness and rough sleeping
-We want our local authority to be building homes
-We want local government to be addressing the climate emergency
-We want our council to be regenerating our communities
And to achieve this the council is, in these circumstances, taking the correct approach. At the moment.
Ethical and Local investments
–Generating income-the PIB (property investment board) approach is high risk and a casino is not the best role model for any economy, but, in an environment of serious government cuts, the strategy of investing in commercial property to develop a future income stream is an adventurous strategy which we will support. However, as said it is high risk and we would therefore wish to include and ensure an ethical dimension-which we will be monitoring. Also we would prefer to see a focus on investing in projects within the district in order to give confidence and support our own economy. But we also recognize that investing in lucrative projects elsewhere is also fine so long as it can bring money back into our communities for regeneration projects. We don’t need to challenge your budget to address this, just to ensure we are part of the process and hold you to account.
-We agree that the withdrawal of Central Government funding means you have to be taking the precept to its £5 max in order to maintain services, avoid job losses and cuts . On Bridgwater Town Council we’ve managed to keep it even lower at £3.51- which is a lot less than some of the other Parishes increasing by £15 in Burnham or £16 in Wembdon -but people in Bridgwater don’t have similar amounts of disposable income.
Investing in Opportunities
Importantly for us there are opportunities laid out in front of us at the moment and we would expect you to take them up and so would want to be partners in that
–Northgate;- this major regeneration project is based on ideas and policies we put forward. A self funded in-house leisure based scheme to complement the town centre is what we asked for and what we are morally obliged to support.
-Regenerating Bridgwater town centre…and to do this we have to embrace the multi million pound opportunity provided by –the Towns Fund – which, of all the Somerset towns only Bridgwater and Glastonbury have been earmarked for. We support this 100%, and want to be integrally involved in development and delivery
-The celebration mile -long promised but still edging it’s way through the town with its teething problems….although maybe by this stage we’re probably talking wisdom teeth
-The tidal barrier and the future of the docks – both integrally linked – the delivery of the tidal barrier, which we have toned down our objections to in order to assist with urgent delivery and our docks – a hidden jewel in our midst but currently facing an uncertain future
-The cultural initiatives – with Sedgemoor winning yet another multi million pound award from the arts council with its Creative People and Places consortium and continued backing for the Quayside Festival this can only enhance this carnival town which at the same time boasts the first art centre in the country.
-Climate change initiatives – we want more trees, & we want more electric car charging points – maybe the money allocated isn’t enough but we can give it a year for everyone to adapt to this new situation. And we will take full part in the working parties, cross county initiatives and scrutiny meetings to work together and have our input.
–Building new council homes – this is a very important policy embarked upon by this council and of course we support that, we’ve always argued for this . The flexible use of capital receipts to build new homes and to repurchase ex council stock. Of course we want more. 20-25 a year is not enough, but we’re not going to oppose the limited number you are proceeding with -of course we welcome and support it.
Working Together to face down adversity
It’s a very uncertain time and nothing helps muddy the waters further than Brexit….with a year of phoney war with Europe, councils are right to be cautious about whats around the corner and fear for the future….and if you’re not yet convinced that the intent behind Brexit was immigration then yesterdays announcements will have made it clear-it will be harder to employ carers, harder to build homes, the construction and care sector businesses are warning of dire consequences- The fight for local government is clearly to take back control……….from Westminster
But it’s not just central government we want to help you fightback against – Also around the corner is the unitary debate – which is being imposed in the name of ‘savings’. But we know that those ‘savings’ in reality mean county level incompetence, and it will be responsible 3nd tier authorities like Sedgemoor that will suffer and whilst not wanting to build up a treasure chest just to hand over to a new ,remote county leviathon, instead needs to build up, defend and argue the case for the maximum power at the lowest level and closest to the people.
Sedgemoor is caught – as is local government generally – between central government austerity and 2nd tier mismanagement.
So as you stand up to these 2 blue monsters, the least we can do is support you. We won’t be opposing this budget, as we wouldn’t want to intrude….”