We just had one of the most important council meetings of the year, the annual budget meeting. The differing priorities and approaches of the Labour group and the Conservative group were very stark.
The way that agenda of the annual budget meeting is structured means that there is inevitably a certain amount of theatre to the proceedings. First the group in control (us, the Labour group) present our budget proposals. Then the group in opposition (the Conservative group) raise objections, and offer their alternative plan. After that we return to the original plan and ultimately aim to get it approved, via a vote.
I found three things noteworthy this year:
- Both the Labour and Conservative plans contained the same proposal on the rate of Council Tax: a basic rise of 1.99% plus 1% for the ‘social care precept’. A total of 2.99%.
- The Labour plan recognised two enormous challenges we face: the Cost of Living Crisis, and the Climate Emergency. Protections for the most vulnerable members of our communities were emphasised, along with securing key services such as libraries and leisure centres.
- The Conservative plan contained a frankly alarming proposal to sell the council’s dividend-bearing shares in Newcastle Airport, and was bizarrely fixated on the ‘Morph Trail‘, repeatedly citing it as an example of council waste, despite being reminded numerous times that it was not funded by the council!
I had the opportunity to speak on the Labour group’s budget plan, the full transcript of which is below.
If you have any questions about the budget please do drop me a line.
Speech on 2022-23 Budget
The budget before us hasn’t just been zapped onto our desks from nowhere. It is the result of a painstaking process. I want to thank all those involved for their hard work in presenting us with a balanced budget to approve.
Before we do I want to reflect for a minute on what that phrase ‘balanced budget’ actually means. Of course, it is an accounting term, referring to the sum of all the incomings and outgoings. But it is more than that. This isn’t just about a balancing of abstract financial transactions. It is also the balancing of priorities, because budget-setting doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Our council, like local businesses, and local households, is battling against challenging economic conditions. These challenges are without doubt amplified by ill-judged policies made by the current conservative government. Not to mention the waste! A quick tally of faulty PPE orders, dodgy Covid loans and related items comes to around £16 billion. We could run North Tyneside Council for 100 years based on the waste from 1 year of Tory mismanagement. And, had we adopted the budget proposal put forward this time last year by the members across the chamber, this council would now be well in the red.
Thank goodness then, that our Mayor and her Cabinet members are on top of their brief. Under mayor Redfearn North Tyneside has seen a decade of economic growth exceeding all its regional peers. Even despite the multitude of financial demands facing the council, the constant juggling act brought about by limited resources, I believe this budget has got the balance right. I’m not sure any council anywhere has presented a perfect budget, certainly never a budget that pleases everyone.
This is however a sound plan before us, alert to both short term and long term pressures. It is the result of committed, caring people, doing their jobs well. It is a budget that is well-balanced, both in financial terms, and also in policy terms.
For these reasons it has my support.