· This budget has been written following a consultation with the people of Dartford. Unfortunately, there is very little in the budget report that gives an indication of what they said.
· Luckily, we do have the views of Dartford residents available to us courtesy of the Dartford Messenger who have published a poll asking the question “Do you feel you get value for money from your Dartford Council Tax bill?”
· The answer is a very resounding ‘no’. 4 out of 5 people felt they are not getting value for money from their council tax.
· And who can blame them for feeling that way?
· This is a budget that risks breaking the contract between the Council and people of Dartford.
· People can accept the need to pay more for improved services.
· This is a budget that will see Dartford residents paying more and getting less.
· We know – because the budget book tells us on page 19 – the priorities of the Conservative administration. Keeping Dartford safe, town centre regeneration, tackling flytipping and waste and street cleaning.
· The Conservatives are falling short on every measure. Failing on their own terms.
· And even worse, this budget gives no indication and no detail of how the additional council tax people are being asked to pay will be used to address these issues.
· The Conservatives tell residents their priority is keeping Dartford safe. Yet, this budget proposes to cut the budget for CCTV.
· With Anti social behaviour in Kent at a three year high that’s a budget that needs increasing not cutting. And only last month, Councillors were told there would be no additional resources to enforce the public spaces protection order for the town centre.
· We hear the words from the Conservatives but there is no action to back them up.
· It feels like Groundhog Day to be at yet another budget meeting and hear the town centre regeneration is on the agenda.
· Yet this is a budget that has literally nothing to say on attracting new businesses to Dartford, no ideas on creating local employment and no initiatives to drive growth in the local economy.
· Our town is growing with entrepreneurial talent – both long standing and newer residents. This council should be looking at how we can encourage small businesses and start ups. Dartford could be a ‘go to’ place for those with ambitions and ideas to start their own business.
· But the Conservatives don’t even have a plan for economic growth. Worse still, there isn’t a Cabinet member with responsibility for producing one.
· The waste collection service – once spoken of with such pride by members opposite – is in a critical condition.
· Residents increasingly experience their bins not being collected on the day they should be and we see newly purchased waste collection vehicles breaking down while out on their rounds. It’s just not good enough.
· The service is under severe strain but there is no detail in the budget of how these issues will be addressed.
· The proposal to allocate an extra £71,000 for street cleaning is a sign that the Conservatives much heralded litter enforcement scheme is failing. Well – it’s succeeding in lining the pockets of Kingdom Security.
· But there is no evidence that the scheme has reduced the amount of litter on our streets and that is demonstrated by the need to now put additional resources into street cleaning.
· The Conservatives have failed to tackle Dartford’s litter epidemic.
· When residents are asked to pay more council tax but the council are still relying on voluntary litter picking groups in order to keep our streets clean you know that the Conservatives are falling down on the day job and not getting the basics right. People are paying more and getting less.
· I never thought I would feel sympathy for the Conservative members opposite. And I was right – I don’t.
· But I do think we can all feel sorry that clearly there has been no ‘sweetheart deal’ for Dartford in this budget.
· But there is no doubt that they have been given a hospital pass from the government when it comes to funding.
· The Conservative government has all but abandoned its commitment to local government funding.
· The budget we are being asked to vote on tonight contains a massive cut to our Revenue Support Grant. The last grant settlement provided to this council by a Labour government amounted to £7.5m. By 2019/20 that grant will have reduced to zero.
· No council, no business, no organisation can withstand that level of income reduction without an impact on the services it provides.
· But if imposing a council tax increase to respond to the funding challenge and growth of our population it is safe to assume this will be the first of many rises to come.
· The Conservatives have presided over a growing ‘black hole’ in our finances. The budget gap in 2018/19 is approximately £1.2m, rising to nearly £4m by 2021/22. The budget claims the Conservatives will “explore all options in managing the gap” but realistically the options are
1.) Increasing Council Tax
2.) Raiding our reserves.
3,) Cutting Services.
· The question residents need to know is - what’s it to be?
· The Conservatives have failed to answer that question tonight as they have failed to meet even their own priorities.
· This should have been a budget that set out how the council was going to address the challenges we face as a community
· Instead the Conservatives have no answers, no details on how money is going to be spent and no vision for the future.
· The Conservatives are asking hard working people to pay more, but get less. That’s why it’s a bad budget for Dartford.