“The Madness of King Garry”: Labour leader slams Tories over budget victory

THE LABOUR LEADER of Thurrock Council, cllr John Kent gives his reaction to the cuts agreed last night.

“Months of careful work was thrown into chaos by Thurrock Tories on Tuesday night — simply to score daft political points.

Cllr John Kent, Leader of Thurrock Council, said after Tuesday’s full council meeting: “The Tories and independent councillors thought that saving Thurrock residents less than two-and-a-half pounds a year was more valuable than a sensible, well worked out budget.”

He said: “I told Tuesday’s meeting that we had looked carefully at a quarter of one percent Council Tax decrease and found that it would only save a Band D Council tax payer £2.79 a year while costing the council £145,000.

“Most homes in Thurrock are Band C and below, so that’s even less of a saving — and that doesn’t include those who live alone and get the 25 per cent discount!

“We simply do not believe this to be prudent or responsible in the current economic climate – it was this type of irresponsible budget setting that led to Thurrock’s £6 million Tory overspend last year.

“What’s worse is that they quite obviously haven’t thought things through.

“We’d already said that we’d found a way to avoid having to cut the residual waste collections to fortnightly, so that’s no new saving.

“Outrageously they voted to close the Thurrock Adult Community College in Grays – with no consultation with the staff or learners – and leave others to pick up the pieces.

“They want to spend £228,000 on PCSOs — or ‘plastic policemen’ as one Tory called them — but we already know that we don’t have our full complement of PCSOs. Our proposed cut wouldn’t have affected the number of police officers or PCSOs on our streets one jot!

“And when you look at their so-called new savings things not only don’t get any better they show that the Tories haven’t been listening to us.

“Let’s look at a few of them. We now have to look at saving £20,000 to ‘package up leisure related facilities and community halls and outsource to specialist external organisations or trusts’.

“The Tory leader was at our cabinet meeting a couple of weeks ago when I said we were already involved in talks with a range of potential partners regarding leisure and libraries, but these negotiations take time and the council now doesn’t have that time.

“Now, somehow, we have less than four weeks to implement the Conservative / independent plan to privatise Grays Beach and the Thameside complex and cut back on our support to community halls.

“We now have to save £110,000 by finding staff who want to work and get paid for four days a week instead of five. We’ve spent the last nine months telling staff we’re looking for new ways to save money. If they wanted to do this, they would have told us.

“Achieving ‘TRANSVOL and bus service complementation efficiencies’ — we’ve already looked at and achieved this in the £200,000 reduction of the transport budget; cutting out the £2,000 for every member to be able to spend in their own wards — despite the impassioned plea from Tory councillor Phil Anderson for devolved budgets (yes, he voted for the cut.)

Cllr Kent said: “There’s more, but what it comes down to is this: In May, we took over a council that had been effectively bankrupted by the previous Tory administration with £2 million in reserves and losing £500,000 every month — you do the maths.

“Our hard work has guaranteed around £5 million is reserves, minimal loss of services — no libraries disappear, no reduction in the criteria people need to access adult social care — and all that in the face of £12 million cuts imposed by the Tory-led government.

“Clearly some of these Conservative proposals have merit, but they needed careful consideration by a cross-party group of councillors.

“But consideration and common sense went out the window on Tuesday night. Instead we are now stuck with ill-thought out, headline-seeking and political point-scoring measures that we have to try and work through — and all for two-and-a-half quid a year each.”

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