Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Stephen Lloyd's Lib-Dems betray Eastbourne Residents in Budget Shambles

Last week Eastbourne's Borough Councillors met at the Town Hall to agree the budget for the forthcoming civic year - an opportunity for members to show they get it, understand the challenges that residents face in these difficult times and to pass a budget that goes some way to help everyone get through to brighter times.

The Lib-Dem administration's proposed budget was delivered confidently by Cabinet Member for Finance, Gill Mattock and its true to say that a further freeze in council tax is not to be sniffed at, even if that was heavily subsidised by Local Government Minister, Eric Pickles in his attempts to stop councils from increasing the tax on residents. It was also good to see the administration finally listen to Conservative calls for Langney Point's Five Acre Field to receive upgraded security measures to prevent traveller incursions and critical levelling work to enable sport to be played on this much valued Community Field again in addition to upgraded recreation facilities in Upperton Ward - these are all long overdue and Ward Councillors look forward to ensuring that residents are kept informed of the what works are planned and when they will be done.

Then came the Conservative ammendment to the budget which if accepted by Lib-Dems would have ensured that their proposals were complimented by additional actions that would have gone that bit further to extend a helping hand to every resident, not just a chosen select few in Lib-Dem held seats.

The contrast could not have been clearer with the two presentations, despite differences of political idealogical belief, Conservatives sat quietly and respectfully whilst listening to Cllr Mattock's budget proposals but Conservative Shadow Finance Spokesperson, Cllr Annabelle West was greeted with ill-mannered geers and general rowdyness as she tried to highlight further actions that members could have agreed to. Those in the public gallery must have been appalled and it is hardly surprising that so many are turned off of politics when they see elected members behaving in this fashion.

On to the additional support our Council could have offered residents had Stephen Lloyd's Lib-Dems not turned the amendment down:

  • 2% Cut to Council Tax REJECTED - even though it was fully costed and former Lib-Dem Mayor, Carolyn Heaps admitted during debate that it could have been afforded!
  • Sharing the proceeds of the Solabourne Scheme with all residents REJECTED - even though the Lib-Dem Council was quite happy to saddle all residents with the risk of the £18 million pound scheme through finance used to fund it, they have ensured that only selected Council House tennants benefit from free electricity without ensuring that the £75,000 surplas in income now expected is shared with all residents!
  • Savings of £500,000 per year by bringing Eastbourne Homes back in house REJECTED - now the benefits of having an arms length management company to look after Council Houses has ended, we suggested that the £500,000 a year tax payers spend on seperate office space and a completely seperate set of Chief Executive Officers should now be stopped within the next three months as we have more than enough office space within the Council's own property portfolio and a Senior Officer Team within the Council who could easily perform the same functions. This money could have gone towards keeping council tax down for residents in future years!
  • Cutting the cost of Council Management by working closer with our neighbours REJECTED - we said that building on the success of the recent multi-authority waste contract which will save Eastbourne residents over £1 million per year, we should export the talents of our senior officer team and share them with our neighbouring councils. This would not only save money but also lead to a more joined up approach to the wider locality which could prove really useful in attracting inward investment, regeneration, developing an unbeatable tourism offer that helps us build on Eastbourne's traditional strengths and even give us a louder voice when we are campaigning to improve road links, cut train journey times to London and preserve our local Hospital services!
  • Restoration of the much missed Dog Warden post & increased focus on keeping our seafront,parks and gardens looking good REJECTED - last year news broke that the post of Dog Warden had been deleted although the Leader of the Council dissmissed this as untrue. It has transpired since that as part of the council's re-organisation, the post has indeed been done away with and the popular member of staff has had to reapply for another job within the council. We now understand that the duties previously undertaken by the dog warden are to be included with a team of nine neighbourhood wardens who will have a multitude of other tasks to complete at the same time. When the questionned by myself at a recent meeting of the Joint Action Group, it was announced that plans are at an early stage and that officers were not even in post yet with no details of how the scheme will work are available until April. We are saddened at the stress staff have been under during this process and will continue to scrutinise Lib-Dem plans until we are satisfied that residents are getting the level of service they deserve.
Lastly members were shocked to discover that after Council Departments were moved out of the historic Town Hall late last year because we were told that it no longer met the required standards for technological communications or disability access, over £8,400 has been spent on installing wireless access in all of its empty rooms and over £20,000 has been spent on consultants to explore future uses for the building. Three wooly ideas have come forward, all of which involve trying to attract charitable organisations to come out of the communities they serve to occupy rooms in the Town Hall as part of a Community Hub project and on top of the nearly £29,000 already spent, hundreds of thousands of pounds are also now likely to be spent on upgrading disability access - you couldn't make it up could you?

Businesses in Little Chelsea, still reeling from the shock planning permission given by Lib-Dem Councillors the other week to permit Tesco to open yet another Express Store on the ground floor of the old Council offices at 68 Grove Road, even though there are already an independent grocers in the street, will now be concerned to learn that these wooly plans for the Town Hall include opening a Cafe in direct competition with the popular independent offerings in this specialist retail area - talk about adding insult to injury!

Conservatives propose a far more sensible approach here - abandon these hair brained plans, preserve and maintain the Town Hall but move non-customer facing Council officers back in to the building that was intended for them in the first place, leave the one stop shop for Council services at 1 Grove Road but free up two floors of office space in that more modern and accessible building to rent out at commercial rates.

Sadly these sensible additional measures were voted down by Stephen Lloyd's Lib-Dems and it will be interesting to see if after thinking about them, any of the Conservative plans resurface during the coming civic year rebranded as Lib-Dem measures - you will know where you heard them first but this May, elections are due to be held to the County Council. These elections are of critical importance to us here in Eastbourne because if Lib-Dems take control of the County Council, not only will the years of progress be undone but the Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council would become the Leader of East Sussex County Council. Following the millions of pounds wasted on consultants since they came to power in Eastbourne, the neglect of council property which has left residents facing a bill of millions of pounds to get them back into good condition and the lack of judgement shown in rejecting these budget proposals in Eastbourne, I don't think we could afford them - do you?

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