Thurrock Council is currently setting its budget, which will determine the council tax rates and what services are provided from April 2013. Following publication of the Labour administration’s plans earlier in January, Thurrock Conservatives have responded with their own view of what should be the council’s priorities for the forthcoming year.
“Your budget shows your vision”
Conservative leader Cllr Phil Anderson said: “If you want to know the council’s real vision for Thurrock then you should look at its budget. Based on this test, Labour’s vision for the last two years has been nothing more than to cling on to power and avoid making any difficult decisions. They have made cuts here and there with no consistent approach and no deeper reform of council services. Now we’ve reached the point where there are no easy choices left to make, and the pipeline of longer term savings is empty.
“Our alternative budget proposals are based on a clear and simple vision for the future of the council. We want to see financial decisions made directly at the front line. This means giving much more money for the delivery of public services directly to schools, to local communities, to entrepreneurs, and to voluntary, community, and faith groups.
They have a closer understanding of the needs, are less constrained by bureaucracy, and are best able to make decisions about prioritising limited resources. They will be supported by a smaller central council organisation whose job in the future will be to commission services from others rather than trying to run everything themselves. We believe this vision is more affordable, more efficient, and more flexible to respond to the needs of people and communities. Add to that an emphasis on value for money and eliminating waste that Conservatives have always been known for, and you stand a real chance of getting both quality services and a balanced budget.”
Putting it into practise: the Conservative ‘top ten’.
The full budget contains dozens of individual proposals. These are few of the higher profile ones which give an idea of our approach in different areas:
Bring council services such as libraries, housing, and other advice under one roof in each major community, reducing running costs while improving service.
Give money for local services and facilities direct to community or parish councils, allowing different Thurrock communities to make their own spending decisions and even to raise more cash for local schemes.
Crackdown on underage alcohol and tobacco sales; extra money on enforcement will prevent excessive health costs in future.
Replace fixed–time school buses and denominational transport with a less costly subsidised travel pass for 11-18 year olds, enabling students to travel at a wider range of times.
Elect all councillors at the same time every four years, rather than having expensive partial elections nearly every year.
Hand the day-to-day running of major leisure facilities like the Thameside and Grangewaters over to community groups or entrepreneurs, improving services while reducing subsidy.
Reduce the size of the central education department and give more money directly to schools to spend for themselves.
Recruit more foster careers locally, spending less on expensive out-of-borough placements.
Multi-skilled teams for council housing estates, able to set their own priorities to tackle problems more efficiently.
Introduce low energy street lighting, which is better for the environment and saves on both energy bills and EU carbon taxes.
Expanding on his plans for leisure facilities, Leader of Thurrock Conservatives Cllr Phil Anderson said: “Labour’s plans for facilities like the Thameside Theatre show no new ideas or imagination at all; just slow cuts to subsidy which will lead to an inevitable decline. It’s a perfect example of the council trying to do everything when it actually needs to step aside and let the experts get on it with it. The same principle applies in so many other areas, from how we run our schools to how we manage our parks and even what local road schemes get priority.
“If the Thameside has a long term future then it is in the hands of a creative entrepreneur or community arts organisation that can give it their full attention and really make a go of it. It’s right that the council continues to own the site to keep it safe for the future, but we’re not experts in theatre promotion and we never will be. The same is true for other council facilities, including those buildings that will be released as we move council services into a smaller number of local hubs. Offer them out to the community and I guarantee you will see a surge of innovative and great value ideas on how to get real ‘social value’ from them.”
“Tough but positive”
Before the budget is voted on in February, it goes through the council’s ‘overview and scrutiny’ committees for Councillors to examine the details in each area. This year the Conservatives are offering their alternative proposals to be examined by the same committees; the first time that any opposition in Thurrock of either party has done so.
Cllr Anderson said: “What you are seeing from the Conservatives is an emerging vision for Thurrock that is consistent and doesn’t get blown about by short term electoral politics. Many of these ideas featured in our manifesto for the 2011 local elections, and they also reflect the Government’s drive for localism. We don’t expect to disagree with Labour on everything, and we hope that some of these proposals may well get cross-party support.
“I promised a ‘tough but positive’ approach to this year’s budget, and putting our proposals through overview and scrutiny is one way of honouring that commitment. It hasn’t been an easy process and we’ve been disappointed by how hard it has been to get our proposals on the agenda in a form that we are happy with. At times it has felt like Labour’s promise to listen to other ideas was more lip service than a serious commitment. However we won’t give up, and at least on budget night no-one will be able to accuse us of tabling amendments which haven’t been properly debated or thought through.”