February 11, 2020 in News

But hey, I gave a speech anyway. Faced with the prospect of more Council Tax rises for residents and a close look at the MTFS (budget) of the Council, I had no choice other than to speak up about issues which I felt would be important to residents.

Here’s what I said

Fellow members, I have studied the MTFS and have taken the opportunity to ask questions of officers about how this Council balances it’s budget. We know that Councils have had funding cuts from central government, even though ‘austerity is over’ but I’m afraid this same old line is wearing thin with our residents.

As I’ve spent time looking through the MTFS I will just touch on a few items of expenditure that I could not understand. For example why…

• Rochford District Council has a policy that offers staff a bonus for attendance – I thought this was normally referred to as a salary!

• Assets that are supposed to generate the council revenue have poor accounting records. With this I refer to the Old House and Rayleigh Windmill, where NO officer time is accounted for in the budget to operate and maintain these facilities. How do you determine the real value of these assets?

• There is no budget provision for either CCTV or more seriously, the Carbon Neutral by 2030 working group findings. Surely, budgets are allocated in advance as if the funds are not needed then can be returned in the future? This appears to me as if costs are being hidden away or there is no intention to actually carry out any work of these groups.

I do not think this is prudent management of finances or financial planning. Is it acceptable practice to not plan if we already know or expect there to be expenditure in the future?

The capital programme of this Council seeks to “provide the Council with transparency over  its future spending plans and to enable effective planning, prioritisation and financial management.” – however, part of this plan, the asset strategy, provides very little transparency to our residents and particularly Members of this Council who are responsible for setting a Budget for this coming Municipal Year. With Investment Board  meetings regularly cancelled, Members do not have a clear overview of how the asset strategy is developing and the future of many of the assets. How can we support an asset strategy with this level of oversight which we understand may not be available to Members until March. Will an amended Budget be necessary? 

It’s not all bad though, I personally welcome the £658,000 of investment in the enhancement of the play facilities over a three year period but we should not forget the youth of our District who perhaps fall beyond the ages of play facilities.

I have read the MTFS and I have also surveyed residents via social media, as this seems the accepted form of consultation, I’ve spoken to residents the overarching message to me wasmore work needs to be done to make this council more efficient, more transparent and less wasteful. 

On the basis of the capital programme alone, I will not be supporting this MTFS.

In case you are wondering who the loser is… it’s residents finances

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About the author 

James Newport

Essex County Councillor for Rayleigh North, Rochford District Councillor for Downhall & Rawreth and Rayleigh Town Councillor for Sweyne.

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