Our Greenwich Council Budget proposals 2019/20

Cllr Matt Hartley, Leader of Greenwich Conservatives, writes on the Opposition Group’s alternative Budget proposals.

Tonight Greenwich Councillors will vote on the Council’s Budget for 2019/20.  You can read our alternative plan, which we are putting to a vote at tonight’s Full Council meeting, here.

Back office efficiency savings – belatedly

We welcome some aspects of Labour’s Budget proposal – in particular, Labour councillors’ belated acceptance that back office efficiency savings are possible. For years and years we have been making the case that, at a time of financial constraint on all councils, Greenwich needs to do more to make efficiencies away from the front line, in back office functions. We are pleased that the Labour leadership has finally accepted the need to do this – although the delay has been extremely costly to the taxpayer.

As our plan shows, however, Labour’s Budget still contains nearly a million pounds of wasteful spending that the Labour leadership is refusing to deal with.

Cutting waste so we can help more people

Our fully costed Budget proposal would introduce a £1.3 million a year programme of reducing waste and improving efficiency, including

  • Replacing Labour’s controversial Greenwich Info magazine with cheaper and more targeted means of communicating with residents, saving £451,000 a year
  • Cutting the cost of local politics with measures which include reversing recent increases to three Labour councillors’ allowances and reducing the size of the Cabinet to match other London boroughs, saving £74,000 a year
  • Ending taxpayer subsidies for Trade Union activity, saving £246,000 a year
  • Scrapping PR, reputation management and information subscriptions, scrapping spending on professional photography and reducing spending on corporate communications, saving £74,000 a year
  • Making savings in the Mayor’s Office including through a more cost effective car lease and reducing catering spend, and securing external sponsorship for some civic and internal events, saving £55,000 a year
  • Costed measures to improve the council’s below-average Council Tax Collection Rate to generate a further £400,000 a year which is currently going uncollected
  • With this £1.3 million a year, our amendment would allocate this saving to fund Greenwich Conservatives’ long-running proposal to improve the Council Tax Support Scheme, which helps low-income residents with their Council Tax bills.

Lifting low income residents out of Council Tax

Last month Labour Council Leader Danny Thorpe came under fire – rightly – for breaking the administration’s promise to introduce up-to-100% support for qualifying working-age recipients this April. The administration simply must keep this promise – and our amendment shows one way, from our outside perspective, in which that can be done. We have shown one way, but I don’t doubt that there are other ways this could be achieved – what’s missing is the political will to make this happen.

One-off support and a Parks Investment Fund

In addition to improving the Council Tax Support Scheme on an ongoing basis, because this now can’t come into effect until April 2020 at the earliest and would be subject to a statutory consultation, our amendment would use the savings between now and then to fund nearly a million pounds of additional one off spending in 2019/20 including:

  • Increasing the proposed funding for the council’s Universal Credit Support Team to help more residents who are moving on to Universal Credit, ensuring joined up working with new central government-funded Citizens Advice provision
  • Continuing additional funding for the Metropolitan Police for the Domestic Violence Intervention Team at current levels for 2019/20, rather than ending this
  • A new £240,000 Parks Investment Fund to address under-investment in parks and green spaces in the borough, with improvements put to a public vote

Given that Labour are finally accepting the need to get serious about back office savings – amounting to £2.25 million – we won’t be opposing Labour’s proposed 2.99% in Council Tax for front-line services this year. However, as in previous years, our Budget amendment is a tax-cutting proposal – potentially lifting up to 15,000 residents who are on the lowest incomes out of Council Tax altogether.

In a nutshell – Labour’s budget fails vulnerable residents

Labour’s budget doesn’t do nearly enough to cut wasteful spending that could instead be used to help more people in our borough. The truth is that while the current Greenwich Labour leadership talks a good game on supporting the vulnerable, they are failing to deliver. This will be their third opportunity to allow Labour councillors to support our proposal to lift residents who are on the lowest incomes out of Council Tax – and I fear they will again, for the third time, whip Labour councillors to vote against it. At this stage, I think its going to take backbench Labour councillors to join us in pressuring the Labour Leadership behind closed doors to keep their promise to do this.

As in previous years, it has taken the Opposition Conservative Group to bring forward a more progressive Budget proposal than the Labour Group that runs Greenwich Council. Some readers may find that surprising – although this is entirely in keeping with our long-standing priority as Opposition Councillors of bringing successful ideas to the Council Chamber, like the Living Wage Incentive Scheme and Council Tax exemption for Care Leavers under 25 – that force the council to do more to help vulnerable people. Bringing forward these ideas, and standing up for local taxpayers whose money is being wasted, have always been my top priorities as Leader of the Opposition at the Town Hall.

Tune in at 7pm see what happens

Tonight’s debate may get pretty heated and judging from Cllr Thorpe’s recent public statements, possibly also very personal, which is unfortunate.  But personal attacks aside, its right that we debate this passionately – given the gravity of the decision councillors are making this evening.

You can read our amendment here and Labour’s proposal here – and if you want to see the debate unfold, tune in from 7pm tonight at https://royalgreenwich.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/390273