On the campaign trail – Beck Row

0% County Council Tax rises for Beck Row

Out on the campaign trail in Beck Row

So, we have voted in the 2017/18 Suffolk County Council Budget having defeated Labour’s financially dangerous spend, spend, spend plans and delivered on our key 2013 Manifesto pledge of 0% base Council Tax increases, making 7 year at 0% since 2010.

Our manifesto has been a year in the making and is completed, a mixture of innovation and careful financial planning ever mindful of the need to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and ever mindful it’s your hard-earned money.  We will launch it on 17th March both in paper form and on our web site http://www.suffolkconservatives.org.uk/

So, our regular survey and canvass work steps up on the streets talking to resident about our track record and plans for the future.  They say all politics is local and of course that is true so as I start my campaign off as I always do in Beck Row there are a mixture of concerns from a highways parking problem at the local convenience store which I am getting sorted out, to the bigger picture of what is going to happen with Mildenhall Air Base, (its really RAF Beck Row as you can see in the picture on the left) which we are working on but will take a bit longer!

As I am out and about I am asking residents to fill in my survey or do it on line as we now have our surveys up to make it easier for residents.  The one for Beck Row is http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/beckrow

It’s going to be an interesting few months as we set out our vision for Suffolk County Council’s Future and Labour and the Liberals promise as they do, everything your heart’s desire, just one small problem they never ever tell you that they can’t deliver it.  Same old Labour always spending your hard-earned money and same old Lib Dems always…well that depends what you want them to say. As for UKIP… we are leaving the EU so move on.

The battle lines are drawn and now to the campaign.

 

3% National Adult Social Care Precept rise

 

health-funding

Last year the Government surprised many with the very welcome change from Minimum Wage to National Living Wage, a pay boost for the lowest paid in our society, which has been universally welcomed.  But it also must be paid for and the LGA and the CCN spoke for the entire Care industry in saying we have to, have more money to pay for this, so the Government introduced a new Tax, the National Adult Social Care Precept set at 2% of the Council Tax or in places such as Suffolk 2% of the County Council element of the Council Tax.

You can argue the merits of local v national, property or income based taxation as much as you like but the 2% did not quite cover what we paid to our providers to fund this increase in pay.  We are, this year, asking for the additional 1% Government has allowed, taking this tax to 3% and every penny raised with be spent on Adult Social Care for our most vulnerable residents.

In Suffolk, we carefully negotiate both the rates we pay for residential and home care, ever conscious that we are the holders of your hard-earned money you pay in Council Tax and balancing that, with the need to make sure that employers pay the higher National Living Wage and can attract the staff they need to provide the vital quality of care we would want for our own families.

This year we will not be putting up the base Council Tax for the 7th year running fulfilled our manifesto commitment when we were elected in 2013.  As a Conservative administration, we are philosophically opposed to increasing Council Tax and only do so to pay for those things that we rightly must provide to the most vulnerable in our society.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

BudgetLast week I blogged about the next few months nationally but as a Councillor my and others focus is far more on the local issues and for us at the County Council it’s a mixture of two heady things Devolution and Budget, now you know you are a local gov geek when you use the word ‘heady’ to describe what is essentially rather dry subjects however important both are to Suffolk.

For any Council deciding where to spend its funding in the coming year is its biggest decision.  The one that effects the quality of services it provides and importantly for our most vulnerable residents the quality of aspects of their lives. Thus, it’s the single biggest decision we have to make in our annual cycle.

Last week, Suffolk County Council Cabinet started the process of sharing each department thoughts on the budget they would require and the debate then starts that will take the next few months through to a Full Council meeting to debate and decide.

I try to work hard to get out there with our #WeAreListening events and I have lead more public consultation on things that are happening than the Council has ever undertaken, both in terms of surveys people can fill in on line, to town and village hall meetings. We have commissioned Ipsos Mori and others to provide the backbone to these events with statistically valid polling. Our desire to ask people what they think is critical to me as we have a number of tough decisions to make. But hey, let’s be clear, asking people is but one part of the decision making process, debate in the Conservative group is another, as is the debates at Full Council.  All are component parts into trying to make the right decisions. People often are not going to agree, but, we make the best decisions we can to serve the wider population of Suffolk and to make sure the organisation has the financial resources and capacity to deal with the often more hidden issue we have to deal with.

A couple of weeks ago, I did a sort of reply piece on Mark Murphy’s BBC Radio Suffolk show to address some political pot shots from the opposition about Care Homes and how they are funded and the extent to which SCC work with them for the good of residents that was on the day before’s show.  In essence, I provided context to oppositions Councillors comment that implied we provided all the places a few years ago and now we sold everything off to the private sector. What we actually did was bring in a private provider to provision the 9% of the Suffolk total number of beds we were the provider of.  But, beyond the political point scoring, it was a really good debate highlighting one of the many discreet services provided few people hear or know about, unless faced with such very tough and difficult choices.  As an adult there are few things more daunting than that of care provision for one’s parents and loved ones.

Often the debate is about roads and this year many of us will have seen the significant investment £10M we have made over and above our normal expenditure on the highways. Yet, few of us actually know which of our neighbours receive some form of care service support or hear about the discreet Children’s services to protect our young people from harm. Getting Mrs. Smith out of bed each morning and helping her wash and dress, those hundreds of care beds we provide for people who can’t afford to pay for them themselves and all of these services to the most vulnerable in our communities largely go unnoticed. But we all, me included love to moan about pot holes for its the universal services, our roads.

So over the coming months there will be the chance to have your say and for the Cabinet to set out its plans for the coming year’s budget and when you do, it is important to say what you would divert money from to address something else.   For these are the debates your Councillors will be having as well.

What more Tax?

Yesterday I blogged about Labour controlled Ipswich Borough Council’s ever rising bills, and the contrast with Conservative controlled organisations.

A fine example of this is Tim Passmore the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner who is for the second year running proposing a 0% rise in the Police precept again fulfilled his promise to freeze the police element of the council tax bill, so across Suffolk freezing the policing element of the council tax this year means that the average amount paid by every household in Suffolk remains at £166.77 a year which is just £3.20 a week (based on a Band D property).

Heard yesterday that IBC Labour master’s have finally admitted, surprise, surprise, that they intend to impose another increase and are planning to put up the Council Tax by 1.99% which is of course just below the threshold requiring them to ask the residents what they think of their further tax grab. Contrast that with the budget consultation across Suffolk from the County Council where way back in October we were discussing our thoughts about the budget and council tax, the contrast in all respects is quite startling.

Of course this is even worse when you realise that they will have to hand back the Government 1% incentive to do the right thing and not put up Council Tax. Can you imagine what Labour would be demanding if there were no referendum trigger! Seems to me they just don’t get how hard it is for hard working families struggling to pay the bills, they say they do, but demonstrably they do not.

All the residents of Ipswich can now hope is that today or tomorrow the Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP lowers the threshold to trigger a referendum to 1.49% or better still 0%.

Come on Eric the good people Ipswich need you to save them money!

 

Not Al Gore!

On Tuesday SCC cabinet met in West Suffolk House in Bury St. Edmunds to discuss the budget for the coming year and approved a far reaching set of proposals to go forward to the Full Council Debate on 13th February in Ipswich.

According to the journalist from the EADT, Paul Geater, during a set of exchanges about the Library service in Suffolk I overused Al Gore’s famous ‘inconvenient truth’ catchphrase with reference to Labour’s continued attack on our Library Strategy and the simple fact that no Suffolk Library has closed and once he had tweeted his disapproval Labour Councillors in the room jumped on the bandwagon and retweeted what he said that if I used it one more time he would scream, of course I too don’t doubt Labour Councillor would scream because their attack is so weak and pathetic on Libraries even I would screen at their efforts!

It is of course my own fault as during my introduction to the Budget cabinet paper I spoke of the cultural change at the County Council over the years and how now it deliver services in many different ways from wholly owned companies, in-house provision, mutuals, to joint ventures, and, as is the case with Suffolk Library service an Industrial Provident Society commission by the County Council to deliver the library service, a service where every Library is open and customer satisfaction is higher than when it was a purely in-house service, public engagement through a series of friends and management groups is also higher than ever and in my own village, here the library is far more centred in the community than it ever was when it was a direct service see http://lakenheathlibraryfriends.wordpress.com/ . Across the county when I say I’m from Suffolk in local government circles people are keen to hear how we have made the necessary savings in our Library service and how we did it.

I suspect what annoys the opposition more than the words I used is that they so desperately wanted the Library savings to provide them with ammo for their attack position and it’s the complete opposite. Equally we must not forget that they so disagree with the motion than anyone, including our own former staff who make up the backbone of the organisation, could provide a better service at a lower cost than the Council it just so upsets them, bless.

On Tuesday beyond the setting of the Council tax I spoke of the cultural change that has taken place at Suffolk County Council and it’s this willingness to embrace new ways of working focused not on protecting Council jobs but on outcomes. The good people of Suffolk can be relieved that the luddites in the Suffolk Labour party riddled with dogma and old fashioned thinking are not in charge, putting up Council tax, cutting services, and blowing the reserves rather than do anything differently than the socialist utopian Big State.

The Council Bubble

Over the past few blogs I have written about Council tax, referendums, surveys and the future role of residents in Suffolk in the county council’s decision making processes from a panel of residents to discuss policies with, to pilots of participatory budgeting. But for now the focus for the next few weeks at the county council will be on the budget setting process, across the country councils have huge financial pressures as centre government requires local government to make savings yet rightly charges with protecting and deliver front line services. On the one hand they want us to absorb the cuts but not put up the Council tax and have provided a 1% grant incentive to resist the urge to increase council tax, but any increase loses this incentive so say in the case of Essex you are proposing a county council tax rise of 1.49% you will only get 0.49% extra as you lose the government 1% incentive grant, which they argue is necessary to protect services.

So there are many masters in all this, residents, government, inflationary pressures, strange grant formulas not to mention property prices which effects the base council tax take as an area such as Kensington and Chelsea where almost all property will be in the highest band thus much higher Council tax payments are collected, set against somewhere such as Suffolk which is much closer to the average with many properties in band D.

But for me, putting all these argument aside, there is something fundamental in the argument about the state, of big government, set against protecting people hard earned money and individual choice. In my opinion local government is here to efficiently deliver services and to make sure that the most vulnerable in our community are protected for the least charge possible.

In Suffolk this means to achieve our county 0% increase promise and our commitment to absorb government grant reductions. There, of course, will be cuts to some services but others will be reshaped and despite what the opposition will try to sling mud at over the coming weeks, the fundamental focus of the Conservatives at the County Council day in day out is how to protect services for the most vulnerable in our community,  in short protecting these services from cuts is the very essence of why we do what we do.

Equally and beyond these fundamental decisions we take, I am extremely mindful that frankly , when you step outside of the council world bubble, for there is one, when you think about people sitting at their kitchen table trying to balance their own budgets and pay rising bills for fuel, heating, and food, people who for the most part don’t consider the council as an integral part of their lives, but they are working hard and for the moment are often struggling to pay these bills, I simply don’t believe if asked to cast a vote, they would support paying more Council tax.

Now that may change, and various commentators ponder this question and over time putting aside the necessary savings government is requiring local government to make, inflation does bite and will continue to bite thus making even our position today irrespective of savings, somewhat unsustainable over the longer term. So perhaps in future surveys, panels and participatory budget session we need to test these theories to see if public opinion over time shifts. In the meantime, we honour our manifesto commitment which we were elected on, not to increase the county council tax for the whole of this current council term but like others I watch with interest for the first Council brave enough to actually go to referendum and to hearing what the people say.

Council Tax – a philosophical point of view, a game of bluff or people’s hard earned money

This week the debate on Council Tax has sprung to life as Councils across the county start to announce their Budget proposals. At Suffolk County Council we have a different approach and our 0% Council Tax rise is the worst kept secret, a manifesto pledge at last year election, it’s been to the county’s Scrutiny Committee twice in October and November and I and a number of my colleagues have been around the county taking part in Suffolk Biggest Budget Conversation taking about the plans and getting feedback.

In Brighton the minority Green administration yesterday proposed a 4.75% rise in their Council tax and that they would want to be the first ever Council to go to referendum to get it though, closer to home in Essex they proposing a 1.49% rise in Council tax, both of which have been associated with specific services they seek to protect as a part of the ‘sell’.

On Wednesday at a Council Councils Network meeting in London county council leaders from across the county were grilling Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis MP about is the Secretary of State about to lower the referendum trigger point. After that meeting I had a chat with a couple of Leaders about their plans and increases they were considering and so the debate is clearly coming more to the fore as Councils are feeling that the current cuts are starting to become more and more difficult to implement.

So is Eric Pickles MP about to lower the referendum cap. To me if Government, as they approach an election year, think Councils are about to start putting up Council tax this may well force Mr. Pickles hand with his colleague in Cabinet to tighten control, something about a self-fulfilling prophecy springs to mind. Personally I think it might be quite telling that Essex where the Secretary of State has his seat is proposing 1.49%, clearly they have pitched it just below where the cap might go.

With regards Brighton, over the past few months I have got to know the Leader of Brighton Council a little bit as we have both contributed to the New Local Government Network’s work on Digital in Local Government and I have no doubt he is earnest in his aims, having said that he also knows that his is minority administration and if Labour and Conservatives join forces he will be defeated, so there might be a little bit of politics mixed in there too!

So what of Suffolk County Council and us keeping our promise of a Council Tax freeze over the next 4 years, following on from 3 years of 0% increases. Yesterday Ipswich Spy blogged about a presentation by my colleague Cllr. Andrew Reid presenting our Budget proposals to an Ipswich area Committee questioned our policy stance.

Well in my next blog I’ll talk about my thoughts and I look forward with interest to the first Council brave enough to actually hold a referendum and beyond the political class let’s see what those hard pressed families sitting at the kitchen table trying to pay their bills with their hard earned money think to a Council asking them if they want to pay more.

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