Greg Smith: Labour proving clueless at managing the council budget

gregsmithA guest post from Cllr Greg Smith, Leader of the Conservative Group on Hammersmith and Fulham Council

Labour promised an emergency budget in June; instead we have an interim report in July.

They promised £20 million of additional savings; instead we have a dubious £4 million of proposals. 61  days into the Labour Administration, they remain a party without a plan, at odds with their manifesto and clutching at straws.

In a 14-month search for £20 million of unnecessary costs, it seems Labour’s cost-cutting Tsar didn’t get beyond six figures. Perhaps he should stick to his day job of counting fish?

Let me be clear: finding in-year savings is the right thing to do. A budget should always be a limit and not a target. And in every year of the previous administration, we started with challenging gaps to meet, always succeeding.

At the start of this report, they say in paragraph 1.1 that we face a budget gap of £24.4 million next year – somewhat inflated from the £15.1 million in the Medium Terms Financial Strategy when the current budget was set. Nevertheless, they trumpet in paragraph 1.2 their belief that at Annual Council “action was taken towards addressing the gap” – how I hear you ask? By reducing Special Responsibility Allowances by 10% – which, as we’ve found out, has actually INCREASED the overall spend on councillor allowances by £10,000, not to mention the 16% hike in cabinet member allowance spending.

An innumerate start by Labour – and reminiscent of the now Leader of the Council’s Politics Show interview some years ago where he intimated he could cut council tax by more than the last administration by turning the lights off in the town hall extension.

But let’s get back to the report. On page 4 of the Ocean’s Consulting Labour Manifesto – the much parotted absurd line about 600 stealth taxes raising £64.5 million features prominently. We dispute that figure – as we know your workings took into account statutory charges and other fees that still didn’t cover the cost of delivering services that remained subsidised. But let’s put that to one side and take a look at what this interim budget report sets about actually doing. It removes one charge around burials at 24 hours notice that in paragraph 4.7 they admit will be revenue neutral because no charge has actually be raised by it yet! Where’s the bold action to marry Labour’s rhetoric to practice? It’s not there, because they haven’t got a clue.

And so the report goes on. Communications spend. Page 5 of the uncosted Labour Manifesto stated “Conservatives spend £5 million on propaganda”. More bogus numbers, as unlike the pre-2006 Labour Council who spent £400,000 a year on HFM magazine alone, the previous administration’s comms spend was underpinned by advertising.    But we all know Labour don’t want to accept that – so let’s see what they’re doing now. Of the alleged £5 million spend, they are cutting, err, £241,000 – much of which is not real savings as there will be revenue loss involved.

So where’s the £5 million savings? It’s not there: just a figment of Labour’s imagination.

Then we come to libraries: a £30,000 cut to the budget for buying books.

Whilst Labour Councils across the capital were shutting libraries, it was the Tri-Borough Conservative Councils who kept all ours open, whilst saving millions. Now there is a Labour Council in H&F, they’re putting less books on the shelves of those libraries in an attack on reading and literacy. E-book lending is great, but it is in its infancy – and certainly won’t
replace hard copy books that quickly.

Those odd choices aside, this report depends on banking departmental underspends now in the hope that they hold until next April and removing provision for inflation in the hope costs don’t start rising.

No genuine savings.

No real reforms.

Labour are clambering around in the dark – with no idea how to implement their manifesto and taking pot shots at anything they think they can get away with.

Serious reform is the way forward to save the tens of millions needing to be found – principally taking tri- and bi- borough to the next level.

It’s time for Labour to wake up and smell the coffee.

One thought on “Greg Smith: Labour proving clueless at managing the council budget

  1. What are SRAs? What is MTFS? This needs to be accessible content not local government wonk speech.

    Keep up the good work Harry.

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