Lib Dems call for collaboration not conflict on Council
By Cllr Ian Marks - Finance spokesperson
Local Liberal Democrats are calling for more collaboration and transparency on the Council, rather than conflict. The call was made during the debate on the Council's budget last Monday.
The farce of an acrimonious shouting match between the Tories and Labour, with the meeting suspended, and a councillor walking out, was the result of a 'spoof' amendment put forward by Labour. This highlights the need for more cooperation and better conduct in Council meetings.
The Liberal Democrats have also challenged the Tories to tell the public how they would balance the budget with a nil council tax increase and a loss of investment income, but this was not the way to do it.
The economy is in a mess with the highest rate of inflation for 30 years with further price hikes to come. Warrington Council is the sixth lowest funded authority in the country which puts huge pressure on the Council's ability to keep vital services going. Funding allocations are based on grossly out-of-date data and 1991 council tax bands are still used.
There is no extra money from the much lauded 'Levelling Up' scheme and the government only gives settlements for one year, making long-term planning difficult. Money for public health, social care, buses, potholes and the youth service has been cut.
The Council is committed to what is called Outcome Based Budgeting. Yet we never see what outcomes are expected and whether they are achieved. Next year for example, £300k of savings is proposed for the excellent 'No Wrong Door' initiative but we don't know the impact of this saving.
The Council's Cabinet has 'Spotlight' sessions where they review budget proposals. We believe some of these sessions should be open to all councillors. At a time when difficult decisions have to be made, it would be good to have cross-party input.
If we had attended these sessions, we would have raised issues such as, are we doing enough on green issues like air quality and home insulation? Do we need a third machine to empty blocked gullies? Should we be trialling a super-fast pothole filler like they use in Stoke? Can we save money by ensuring that less blue bin waste is rejected because of contamination? Should we toughen up on charging council tax on empty properties? Is there scope for more co-operative working with parish councils?
Although our proposal for a one-off £15 rebate to all Band A to D council tax payers was turned down, we welcome Labour's offer for a cross-party group to look at other ways of targeting £1m to those most in need.