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Council Tax Increase in York Passed

York council

6:41pm 28th February 2013
(Updated 11:15am 1st March 2013)

A meeting is underway to decide if council tax is going up as the City of York decides it's budget this evening.

The Labour run council wants to put the tax up by 2% or 38p a week, it says the increase will all be put towards the rising cost of elderly social care.

Opposition Liberal Democrats and Conservatives say the increase does not need to happen and accuse the council of wasting money on projects like the Arts Barge and Digital Media Centre rather than focusing on core services. But cabinet members say schemes opponents want to ditch will help create jobs and boost the city's economy.

Council leader James Alexander said "Tough decisions are what we must take tonight"and blamed government funding cuts of £114 per head. He added the council has reduced back office costs from £17 million to £13 million back office cuts and has made 40% managment cuts.

He added the planned council tax increase of 1.9% is "controversial" but will protect £2.7m of services He also stated £6 million over 2 years for adult social care which it claims is all of the council tax increase.

The speech also said that there will be no closure of childrens centres or swimming pools but these options were considered.

£1 million for sixty new council houses in York was also announced.

On the controversial subject of leaving parks unlocked at night the council leader said local people could take over the responsibilty but he could not justify the "tens of thousands of pounds" of costs.

It was a stormy meeting with signs held up and shouts from protestors against the planned cuts and also objecting to £40 million being spent on the new council offices at West Offices, although council leader James Alexander responded by saying it would save money in the long term.

Green leader Andy D'Agorne walked out as council rules which forces debates to finish at 10pm meant no time to discuss his budget proposals.

James Alexander's full speech is below:

I want to start tonight by thanking the City of York Council staff, who do such great work for
our city, often without recognition and in difficult circumstances. You do our city proud.

And I want to thank especially the staff who have helped all the political groups here
tonight to put their budget proposals together.

I want to thank my Labour Group colleagues, who have not flinched from the tough
decisions that we need to make in York. They have represented their residents with great
distinction, and they have worked hard to make the best possible choices to help to secure
the future for our city.

But colleagues, tough decisions are what we must make tonight.

• Since the general election, the Government has reduced funding to the council by the
equivalent of £114 per head
• Over the next two years, we believe that the funding gap facing the city of York council
will amount to a further £20m

• Over the course of this parliament, City of York Council will have been forced to achieve
savings in the region of £62 million. This is almost half the council’s annual operational
budget

Those are big numbers and I think it is sometimes difficult to assess what they mean. I
know that for many members of the public it seems as if “the cuts” have become an
excuse for everything and anything. But the scale of the cuts to local government is
unprecedented. As the Conservative Party Chairman himself has acknowledged, if central
government had made cuts at the same pace and of the same scale over the last two
years as councils have, the national deficit would have been wiped out already. Let no one
be in any doubt, we are doing more than our fair share of deficit reduction. In 2014/15
national expenditure will reduce by 0.6% but councils across the country will have
reductions in funding equivalent of 7.6%.

We said last year and we say again now, that we are taking tough decisions to secure the
future.

By the end of the next financial year, we will have reduced back-office administration costs
from £17m to 13m per annum and management costs by 40%, in order to prioritise
spending on efficient frontline services.
 

But that only gets us so far. As time passes, my belief is increasingly not just that these are
tough times, but that they are exceptional times for local government. For the first time in
post-war Britain, the government is shifting funding away from demand on services. The
result is a transfer of resources from north to south, from poorer to richer areas. Any
attempt to protest is dismissed by ministers, quite openly, as “holding a begging bowl”.

 

How insulting. Even under the new way the government has presented the information this
year to try to make the cuts seems smaller, the spending power of Tory councils is
increasing. In West Oxfordshire, David Cameron’s own local council, spending power has
been increased by 2.8%. In Richmondshire, William Hague’s own local council, spending
power has increased by 2.5%. And in York we receive cuts? No wonder they can afford the
financial consequences of a council tax freeze.

 


The whole model of local government is being changed. In some ways that’s not
necessarily a bad thing. But the way it is being done is unfair and will have far reaching
affects in the future which are only now starting to become clear.

 

Maybe the coalition government thought that the public wouldn’t notice cuts made by local
councils. Maybe ministers should see my inbox. The public noticed.

 

York has had self government for 800 years and we need our city to be resilient in the
future to secure the next 800 years. We need to make the decisions now that will help York
to stand on its own two feet, but the government proceeds with its decimation.

 

Last year we announced in February our intention to increase council tax this year. We
proposed a 1.9% rise a long time before the government announced in October the 2%
cap. For some people, it was a controversial plan and I see that the Tories and the Lib
Dems are still eager to take the government’s freeze con. But we were elected, in part, on
a platform of protecting local services. Because of the decision we made last year, and the
decision we propose tonight, we will protect £2.7 million of services this year. The
government’s freeze money is one off and the consequence is further cuts or larger
increased council tax in the future. We know that our decisions will protect more services.
This is not a political decision, if it was why would Tory Ashford increase council tax by
3.5%? Why would Tory Breckland increase council tax by 7.8%? And why would Tory
flagship Surrey increase council tax by the same amount we propose here tonight? What
political statement would they and Tory Wandsworth be trying to make? According to the
Daily Telegraph, almost half of councils across the country are also increasing council tax.
The bubble of the Tory council tax freeze con is burst.

 

We set out a two year budget, just as this year Conservative Trafford has, to help give
certainty. I’m sorry that the other parties in York haven’t followed suit as it would make
clear the financial consequences of their proposals.

 

Securing the future for vulnerable residents

 

Like many local authorities, one of our biggest cost pressures is adult social care.

 

York is a great place to retire. But an older population requires increasing levels of
services. So in our budget today we are committing an additional £6 million to adult social
care over the next two years. All the additional revenue raised from this year’s council tax
rise is dedicated to this, and we are also adding additional revenue from other budget
savings.

 

I would hope that this proposal commands cross-party support. I note that none of the
opposition parties are proposing to reduce it in this financial year, but perhaps they can
clarify what their intentions would be for 2014/15?

 

If we continue on the path we are on, by 2015 almost half the council’s expenditure will be
on adult social care. It is widely understood now that adult social care will require major
national policy changes to make it secure in the long term. I hope that all parties will join
me in calling on the government to bring forward serious proposals before it is too late.

 

We will continue to do all that we can to support vulnerable residents, including this year
making additional capital investments, including  £0.5m in Telecare services, £475k
Disabled Facilities Grant and £300k in Disability Support Budget.


 

I also want to say something about the changes to council tax support which the
government has introduced.

 

As members know, but the public may not, the government has cut £1.3 million of funding
towards the support given to York people of working age who are either out of work or in
low paying jobs to assist with their council tax bills.

 

After some negotiation in Westminster, the government made available some transitional
funding to ease this burden – but for one year only – if councils could meet certain criteria.
For York, this would have amounted to less than £250,000, leaving the council to find a
further £1 million.

 

In the circumstances we find ourselves in, that is money that we could not find, and so last
month we reluctantly announced that council tax support for people of working age will be
capped at 70%.

 

In our budget today, we are making available additional funding of £200,000 for the York
Social Fund over the next two years, to help support those residents hit hardest by all the
changes in the government’s welfare reform programme.

 

We will monitor the situation closely, to look at what further provision we may need to
make available in future.

 

I know that many people will be concerned about what will happen when the government’s
welfare reforms take affect. I share those concerns. The Tories here tonight will make out
that increasing council tax by 38p per week for the typical York household is a mistake. I
disagree, but I respect their opinion.

 

But I’ll tell you what I cannot respect. I cannot respect using the poorest and most
vulnerable just to set a political trap. I cannot respect a government that is cutting housing
benefit and council tax support from some of the poorest members of our community –
thousands of people in our city - at the same time as giving a tax cut to the 13,000 richest
people in Britain.

 

On April 1st, 13,000 people with an annual income of over one million pounds per year will
receive a tax cut worth more than £100,000 to each of them.

 

Anyone who is tempted to think that a Tory council – or a Lib Dem council for that matter –
might value them by giving them a few pounds extra each year off their council tax should
remember that. Whatever they give you, their priority is to give the very wealthy many,
many times more.

 

It’s wrong. It’s just plain wrong.

 

Securing the future of local services
 

I’ve already touched on the efficiencies we are trying to achieve to focus funding on front
line services, and on the boost we are giving to adult social care.

 

Despite the financial pressures we are under, our budget means there will be no closure of
any of York’s children’s centres and swimming pools in the coming year, even as the

government has effectively reduced the Early Years Intervention Grant. However I should
make clear, all such options were considered.

 

In our capital programme, we are making necessary additional investment in the city walls,
river banks and drainage.

 

We know that the cost and availability of housing remains a real issue for many York
residents, so we will begin to make the necessary arrangements through the Housing
Revenue Account to invest £1m in council houses to give over crowded families the extra
space they need, and to make funding available to build at least 60 new council houses
over the coming years.

 

I know that some members have concerns about the future of libraries. Let me repeat
again our commitment to providing a first-class library service. But when thousands of
libraries are being closed by hard-pressed councils across the country, it would be wrong
for us to refuse to look at new ways of delivering libraries here. The recent Big York survey
showed the vast majority of residents expect us to look at different service delivery models
to reduce cost. And as a co-operative council who believes in devolving power, we will do
so.

 

Does that mean that there won’t be tough choices in the future? No, of course not. The
funding gets tighter with every passing year. But the scaremongering campaign that some
opposition councillors have associated themselves with, does them a disservice.

 

And we’ll keep looking at how we can best provide other services in the future too. That is
why we set aside money in the Delivery and Innovation Fund, to finance manageable
change, in a planned way, not just be bounced into decisions. I see that none of the
opposition amendments before us tonight seek to undo any of the existing commitments
made through the Delivery and Innovation Fund, but they do seek to raid the remaining
unallocated money. If you want to take the big decisions we need to protect services in the
long term, I simply say that stripping out the ability to build capacity isn’t a very serious
way to do it.

 

I want to say a few words also about the proposals to stop locking parks at night. I know
that this is a change that many people feel very strongly about, and it seems that there has
been some confusion about exactly how much money this proposal will save. I hear the
concerns of residents, including those in my own ward. We will ensure the saving is made
next year, which will give us time to continue to examine alternatives, including local
residents assisting as volunteers. But I cannot, hand on heart, say that we can prioritise
spending tens of thousands of pounds each year on this services when other more critical
services are under so much pressure.

 

Securing the future of local jobs
 

I want to return to a theme I mentioned earlier, that our budget must be about building a
more resilient city.

 

We will spend less money on benefits if more people are in work.

 

We will have stronger communities if more people are in work.

 

In fact, we know that increasing employment helps in any number of ways.


 

This is why I am proud that this evening we propose paying the Living Wage of £7.45 an
hour to our poorest paid staff. We are the first council in Yorkshire to make this
commitment and this would not have happened if not for Labour.

 

Last year I announced our plans for an Economic Infrastructure Fund. We committed
£28.5 million to boost jobs and growth. I see that the Liberal Democrats are unconvinced,
but we shall discuss their amendment later.

 

So far that money has been committed to:

• Two new park and ride sites, to help stem the increase in congestion

• Expansion of digital York and high speed internet, the utility for modern business

• Reinvigorating our city centre to boost investment in businesses

 

We are sending out a strong message that York is open for business. Claimant count
unemployment fell by 15% in 2012. We welcomed the announcement of the insurance
firm, Hiscox, who are bringing 300 jobs to York. And we will ensure that the new
community stadium, John Lewis and M&S stores get off the ground at Monks Cross.

 

We have secured the second leg of the 2014 Tour de France, the biggest annual sporting
event in the world. It’s an incredible opportunity for local businesses, and to build on our
global reputation.

 

So we’ve made a good start.

 

But with the changes that the government has brought in to allow councils to retain some
local business rates, the growth of local businesses and jobs is also essential to the future
of local services, to providing support to vulnerable residents, to ensuring there is a future
to local government at all. Decisions to boost local jobs now are absolutely essential to
secure the future.

 

Conclusion

 

I said when I announced our budget the other week that I don’t know when the
government’s cuts programme will end.

 

I don’t know when the government will put care for the elderly on a sustainable long-term
financial footing.

And I can’t promise that there won’t be more decisions down the line that we won’t want to
take.

But I am more convinced than ever that we must take decisions now, not just for the short
term, not just for the headlines, but in the medium and long term interests of our city and
its residents.

I am proud of our Labour councillors. They are fighting every day for local residents, for
local jobs, and for local services.

And I can assure the city: we will do everything we can to secure the future that York
deserves.


Councillor Carol Runciman made this speech for the opposition Liberal Democrats:

My Lord Mayor –

We are back at Budget council again and once again, the most important thing to remember is that it is all about choices.  There are always choices, whether it is for a small child deciding how to spend their pocket money or a ruling group deciding how to spend the taxpayer’s money.  It’s a bit like deciding whether to borrow money from grandpa or buy what can be afforded now.

For the Liberal Democrat Group, the overriding priorities are to protect frontline services and to help residents - not to borrow more money and have to pay more interest for ever and a day.

Others in my group will be speaking about the detail but our principles are quite clear.  Residents come first – right across the city – and they always will.

Our amendment would take the government grant on offer, and freeze council tax this year and next. This would give much needed help to local people in these difficult economic times.  If the government is offering money and almost 60% of councils are taking as Labour run Coventry is – then York should too.  We were told that last year’s grant shouldn’t be taken as it wouldn’t be offered again and – lo and behold – it has been. Labour’s proposed council tax rise would be above both local and national averages.

This Labour Cabinet can not continually complain about cuts and plead poverty, then turn down government money, hitting the pockets of local people instead.  When I speak to residents, they cannot understand why government money has been refused – for a second year. If there is money on the table – then the Council should take it.

We also want to protect the frontline services that matter most to local people, such as our libraries, care for older people, road repairs and street cleaning.   Every councillor knows that most of the complaints we get are about potholes and litter.  It is nonsense to cut litter bins and road repairs when it is these basic street level services that are the most valued by residents.  This is where the reputation of any Council can be won or lost.

The cuts introduced last year, to litter bins, salt bins and gully cleaning have genuinely angered local people.  Our amendment would reverse them.

LibDems have always promoted recycling – under our control recycling rates increased significantly from 12% to 43%.  It is essential to maintain and increase that level for the sake of the planet, let alone the city.  We do not believe that there should be any attempt to introduce a Green Bin Tax or reduce services and opening hours at Towthorpe.  This is a service that is popular and well used by people in the area, including me.  That saves landfill tax charges, which are increasing year by year.

Many of us have spent a long time making sure that Ward Committees worked and worked well.  I can safely say that has not been the case during this municipal year.  We would reverse last year’s cuts to Ward Committees and make sure they are made to work again.  We would also create a new ‘community fund’ to help ensure that extra money was given to local communities for them to spend on priorities in their local area – locking park gates is one possible example. 

It is important to us that there is a rebalancing of investment so that there is spending both in the city-centre and in the communities and villages.  They all too often feel ignored by this Council.

We would also invest £50,000 in a council wide ‘Carbon Reduction Plan’.  This calls on the Cabinet to develop a programme, based both on revenue and capital, to deliver a 40% carbon dioxide reduction by 2020. The move would follow on from the current plan, which the LibDems introduced in 2007 and which is on track to achieve a 25% carbon reduction across the Council.

Our plans are detailed in the report and approved by the council’s Chief Finance Officer.  They would cut spending on areas such as the Delivery & Innovation Fund and the Arts Barge, whilst sending a prudent but not excessive amount to reserves. They would also attempt to restore sanity to the council’s finances by bringing down borrowing.

 To pre-empt the Council Leader, we would remove the borrowing commitment that funds the Cabinet’s plans for the Markets and for Reinvigorate York.  Some investment may be needed here but not on borrowed money and not at the expense of front line services.

Under the present Leadership, interest payments on borrowing have increased by 50% and the Council is paying about £1.5million a year alone to meet these borrowing plans. This is just not sustainable in the long-term.

As I have said before, a Cabinet that throws millions in borrowed money at sprucing up the city-centre while cutting care for vulnerable adults, is a Council that has lost sight of what actually matters to residents.

This is an amendment that actually focuses on the things that matter.  They include roads, libraries, social care and freezing council tax – not Arts Barges, Slush Funds, and borrowing.

I commend our amendment to Council.

Councillor Ian Gillies made the following speech on behalf of York's Conservatives:

Lord Mayor,

The Conservative Group has given a lot of thought to its contribution to this year’s budget debate.  What we put before you is a carefully chosen group of amendments to the budget which we believe show the direction of travel the council should be taking and the choices the council should be making and I will say more about these in a moment.

We have not put forward a complete alternative budget, Indeed, our group considered whether to break with tradition this year and to submit no amendment at all, and whilst we decided that to not submit an amendment would not be in the best interests of York residents, our belief is that the council’s usual bickering over the opposition groups’ budget proposals is not really the best use of our time.

Lord Mayor.

We’re here because we spent and borrowed too much, but Labour’s answer is more spending, more borrowing and more debt. Labour isn’t learning.

The public sector and local government in particular faces having less money to spend year on year until at least 2020, regardless of who is in Downing Street, we also recognise the challenges facing Councils regarding the funding of Adult Social Care and Looked After Children.   This is the reality.  Instead of constantly shifting the blame for lack of services to the Government of the day, this council must reform the way it does business by fundamentally refining what services the council provides and how these services are delivered.

Lord Mayor, this Labour administration has never answered the really difficult questions about what essential services CYC should provide in exchange for its residents’ hard earned council taxes.  Of course Cllr. Alexander and Co. have had to flail around to find savings- what council hasn’t?  But they still don’t get it.  The main thrust of this administration has been to scrape together what money it can and to transfer it to the same interest groups the Labour Party has always sought to service, with little thought for the vast majority of York residents who pay their council taxes and at the very least expect that their taxes will go for basic council services.

But not under Labour!  Less public money just means that essential services are pared to the bone whilst pet projects flourish- anyone for an Art Barge?  Either that or simple street maintenance is tarted up and badged within an inch of its life to make it seem as if York residents are getting major improvements to their city along with their unasked-for Vic Reeves Illuminations.  Funny how this administration has to make a big song and dance about doing things that previous administrations Conservatives, Labour and even Lib. Dems. to a certain extent just got on with.

Speaking of ordinary residents, we have made it clear yet again this year that we believe that CYC should accept the Government’s support and to freeze council tax.  They put up council tax last year, they’re putting it up this year, and quite frankly we believe that the cost to York residents is greater than the perceived gain to council finances.

Under Labour, council tax went through the roof. Every local council should be helping hard-working families and pensioners with the cost of living.

Many of the town halls refusing to freeze council tax need to explain to their taxpayers why they have been hiking their numbers of highly paid staff. CYC has scant policy on shared services and responsibilities. Employees with a salary in excess of £50k remains fairly static in CYC therefore there is still massive scope for sensible savings in local government to help cut tax and protect frontline services.

We want to see greater local transparency and accountability over murky municipal pay deals and end Labour’s culture of secrecy. Thanks to the Localism Act, councillors now have the ability to open up senior pay to the sunlight of public scrutiny and veto unacceptable pay packages.

And this leads me to highlight our amendments...

On the Capital Budget.

Make available the existing EIF funds provisionally earmarked for the Digital Media and Cultural Centre project (an indicative £1.4m) and allocate for the investment in the general development of the Guildhall to ensure effective continued use of the building subject to satisfactory business case being developed.’ This will help to protect this historic building for the future. We believe our heritage is important to this City and we should do all we can to protect it,

(g) ‘Within the revised Capital programme of £176.709m create a fund of £1m per annum for a programme of works for Basic Road Maintenance totalling £4m over a 4 year period (13/14 – 16/17). This to be funded by re-profiling schemes contained within the EIF programme (specifically Newgate Market and Reinvigorate York) to make available EIF funding of £850k per annum (covering the financial years 13/14 – 14/15) with £150k per annum (covering the financial years 13/14 – 14/15) being allocated from the existing LTP funds contained in the Capital Programme (which are earmarked for the 20 mph schemes with the cessation of any further 20mph schemes) and allocate £1m of EIF per annum (covering the financial years 15/16 - 16/17)’

Lord Mayor, my Group believes that unless we address the maintenance of our roads and pavements on an annual basis, they will fall into an unacceptable level of disrepair. We only have to observe the potholes both old and new that are appearing on our roads and failure to act is short sighted and foolish. Lord Mayor, is it pothole repairs or a continuation of ill thought and useless 20mph areas, which no one recognises, and the police do not regulate. Lord Mayor, if good roads are to be provided for the Grand Depart they should also be provided for our residents.

Lord Mayor, I now turn to the Revenue Budget.

I do not intend to quote the many references, but would again highlight our proposals.

  • an additional £50k to reinstate the budget related to green waste that was removed in 2012/13
  • an additional £40k to reinstate rubbish bins removed from service during 2012/13
  • an additional £17k to refill salt bins that are empty following the related 2012/13 budget saving’
  • Add new proposal to reduce cabinet members by three to save £44k
  • Add new proposal to reduce union facility time by £50k
  • Add new proposal to remove uncommitted budget related to the Delivery and Innovation Fund to save £737k
  • Add new proposal to remove the commitment to fund the Innovation & Catalyst programme to save £165k
  • proposal CAN06 be reduced by £66k to remove the park attendant reorganisation in Parks & Open Spaces in order to ensure parks are locked at night
  • proposal CANS33 be reduced by £29k to ensure that opening hours at Towthorpe HWRC are maintained at their current times
  • Removal of  proposals:
    • CANS103 – Waste services green waste policy £200k
    • CSTS03 – Parking income £175k’

Lord Mayor, the effect of these proposals is to continue with the emptying of the green waste bins. This administration has already closed the household recycling centre in Beckfield Lane which covered the west of the city, it is threatening not to empty green waste bins unless an extra charge is made, threatening to reduce the opening hours at Towthorpe recycling facility, which many residents believe is a pre-cursor to closing it completely, yet they still expect a reduction in landfill. You could not make it up Lord Mayor.

Lord Mayor, in the present challenging financial climate, public sector jobs are being lost, yet this administration increases its cabinet together with increasing costs. We have four Directors in this Authority, in addition to the Chief Executive, yet we have seven Cabinet Members, covering the same areas, and that it what Labour calls efficiency.

We note they still look after their union masters at the expense of Council Taxpayers, which we would look to reverse, and the ridiculous idea of leaving the parks unlocked at night is a false saving. Damage and anti-social behaviour will no doubt result in much more being spent in reparation and security.

Lord Mayor, turning to the increase in parking charges. When the planning for the new development at Monks Cross was passed, Cllr. Alexander promised measures to assist the traders in the City Centre.

Car Parks were used as a cash cow by the previous administration and the trend is continuing with the present one. The present administration indicated they would follow our commitment to have a pay on exit strategy in car parks in at least one location. Two years have gone by and still we wait. In addition retail businesses in the City Centre are closing at an alarming rate, shops are not willing to enter into long leases, and our central core retail is under serious threat, yet this tefal Cabinet do nothing other than blame everyone else. I also believe it is a total affront to raise the parking charges to residents by 20p whilst those not residing in York pay half as much. It is unfair to both, will add to the reasons not to come in to York, and the charges should be reversed. 

In paragraph 36 (ii), second line, delete ‘1.9%’ and replace with ‘0%’.  Insert new text after ‘City of York Council element of the council tax’ as follows ‘resulting in the Council being able to accept the Council Tax Freeze Grant of £763k.’

Finally Lord Mayor, we would freeze the present level of Council Tax. Cllr. Alexander made great play when he was seeking election of freezing Council Tax, yet when elected could not wait to increase it. He did not need to do it last year, does not need to do it this year, and no doubt will continue to do it in the two years he has left.

An independent survey by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) has today confirmed that council tax bills are to be near frozen across England this year, thanks to the Conservatives’ third year council tax freeze initiative. This means that council tax has fallen in real terms by 9.5 per cent under this Government according to CIPFA figures.

CIPFA estimate there will only be a 0.8 per cent average change in council tax across England, with the majority of councils freezing. In London, the change is just 0.1 per cent. A number of local authorities are going further and cutting council tax in cash terms.

  •  Under Labour, council tax bills in England hit a record £1,439 a year on an average Band D home in April 2010. Bills more than doubled under Labour (+109 per cent).
  • Labour want higher council tax: In Government, Labour Ministers opposed a council tax freeze. In Opposition, Labour Shadow Ministers still continue to oppose the council tax freeze.
  • Families saving over £200 a year: Compared to a 5 per cent rise (the last Government’s capping limit); a freeze will save an average family up to £72 a year on a Band D home. This up to £72 saving this year is on top of last two freezes worth a compound saving of up to £147.
  • Real terms cut: Today’s data means the average council tax increase is 0.4 per cent annually per year over the last three years, compared with an average increase of 5.8 per cent annually under Labour.  Council tax in England has fallen by 9.5 per cent in real terms since this Government took office.

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:

“Council tax more than doubled under Labour. But this Government has worked to freeze council tax for three years, helping hard-working families and pensioners with their cost of living. This survey confirms that council tax will effectively be frozen again this year, with an average change across England of just a mere 0.8 per cent. This is a tax cut in real terms.

"Ed Miliband’s Labour Party opposes freezing council tax, which shows how Labour remain addicted to higher taxes, and are on the side of bureaucracy, wasteful spending and not the taxpayer."

Whilst Cllr. Alexander attempts to ingratiate himself with his peers, by yet again raising the Council Tax, the result is the extra cost is levied on the ratepayers of this City totally unnecessarily.

Let’s face it.  For all their bluster, Labour are not the party of ordinary residents- as those who have dared to disagree with them have found!- but the party of special interests and special favours, all tied up with a big bow and a  tag saying “We care- we’re the party of caring”.  Don’t ever contradict them, because they want you to believe that no one cares about everyone all the time like the Labour Party!  Yes, they make emotional arguments, but they never like to reveal the true cost of putting these into practice. Political dogma and opportunism dictates, they will do anything for a quick headline and photo call, yet behind the headline there is often little substance. Labour has set an example by prioritising an arts barge, 20mph areas, closing and reducing re-cycling centres, leaving parks open at night over decent services that make a difference to peoples lives.

Let’s turn the spotlight on how this administration really operates; the choices it really makes and let the people of York decide if this is truly the way they want their city to be run.


Councillor Andy D'Agorne's speech, which was not delivered, but was sent to Minster FM in advance reads as follows:

Firstly I must state that we recognise the impossible position for local government in the face of government cuts. We support the small increase in council tax to avoid even more dramatic cut that would result when the governments freeze grant drops out – indeed Sheffield Greens have actually proposed calling the government’s bluff by triggering a referendum to help save vital services.

However having said this, Labour are making choices, some of which involve doing the government’s bidding in attacking the terms and conditions – a ‘Living Wage’ is  little consolation if you are being TUPE’d into a private company and risk losing your pension rights. Services either immediately or potentially affected as either privatised or forced into a ‘social enterprise’ include, the staffing of our Elderly People's Homes, the running of our leisure centres and swimming pools, provision for looked after children, re-ablement services, the warden call and community equipment loan service, cleaning and security services for council buildings and the provision of public toilets and (as a social enterprise) all our libraries and archives. We propose at least putting a brake on the privatisation process for the Elderly People’s Homes over the coming year by removing the projected savings required for 2014 -15, in line with the outcome of Labour’s consultation process indicating a clear preference for these to stay as council run facilities. The Cabinet decision to respect this view should be honoured.

A clear focus for us is jobs, and not just any well paid jobs we can attract to York, regardless of whether or not they benefit our city our community and the future of our planet. It is for that reason that we propose to replace funding for the nebulous gravy train ‘Innovation Catalyst’ programme which should be the responsibility of our local ‘innovation business community’/ ‘knowledge economy’ partners with core functions of a local council – paying someone to lock up our parks at night (and be the eyes of the community looking out for anti social behaviour), and introducing two new posts that could save the council and community more than the additional cost of the posts – an Energy Efficiency/Fuel Poverty officer and a Waste Minimisation officer. Helping to attract funding to cut energy bills and getting to grips with the chaos caused by whatever cuts are made to the green bin service is surely more central to the needs of York residents than ‘horizon scanning’ for the York innovation network and the proposed creation of a ‘York Nudge Unit’! We also propose to use this money to reverse the increase in allotment rents – a vital food resource and healthy living activity for our citizens and to reverse the cut to the staff hours committed to Air Quality work. For a city in breach of World Health Organisation pollution limits and at risk of huge EU fines for the life shortening damage we are doing to the lungs of our young and elderly this cut cannot be allowed.

We would also use the unallocated portion of the Delivery and Innovation Fund to retain our professional library service, stimulating imagination and learning for our future generations, and allow more time for proper exploration of options for the service rather than pre-empt a consultation by slashing the budget now.  Social enterprises can be very good indeed for creating new jobs and promoting social responsibility but shouldn't be used for cutting council budgets whilst hiving off responsibility for running our most cherished public services. Savings through using library buildings as community hubs for shared services could equally well be made in-house rather than handing them over to some kind of ‘Volunteer Army’ outfit.

Our capital programme proposals also centre on sustainability and creation of green jobs – with a major investment in following the example of Bristol City Council in establishing a council controlled Renewable Energy Company to kick start investment in green jobs. In a paper tabled as a late item for Budget Cabinet on Feb 12th Mike Slater stated of work on local renewable energy generation (para12)     “On completion this work should provide the opportunity for the city to attract investment …to accelerate the development of Low carbon renewable energy District Heating Networks across the city. This could be through the creation of a Local Energy Services Company. WITHOUT MAPPING AND DETAILED FEASIBILITY STUDY TO DETERMINE VIABILITY IT WILL BE VERY DIFFICULT FOR YORK TO LEVER IN INVESTORS OR FUNDING.”

We appeal to all political parties in the city not to play politics with this idea but to grasp such opportunities clearly identified by our officers, even in these financially difficult times for the benefit of the city and our future generations by pump priming green jobs and addressing fuel poverty.

Our other major capital proposal relates to public transport, a key issue for this city that depends so heavily on tourism and suffers from congestion and air pollution. It is now about a decade since the last step change in bus use in this city, and without intervention services face further decline in the face of austerity and direct and indirect government funding cuts – a 28% cut to funding via local authorities, a 20% cut to the fuel tax rebate last year, and £100m less via the national pensioners pass funding. When this is combined with the impact on city centre businesses of the Monks Cross retail development a year from now we believe the time is right to develop a vision of a decent evening and weekend network of buses, in keeping with our aspiration to be a truly international city. Go to Berlin, Copenhagen, or Edinburgh and you will be able to get a bus to the centre in the evening at a reasonable rate and frequency and get one back again to the suburbs. In York Park and Rides shut after 8pm other routes along main roads either finish at about 6.30 or are very infrequent – in my case 90mins between services. This is not a proposal for the council to start subsidising a whole range of evening routes. It is however a proposal to pump prime serious promotion, in partnership with city centre businesses, both of existing evening services and new services to fill clear gaps in existing provision on a trial basis. Free evening city centre parking for residents is great for those who don’t want a drink, are still fit able and wealthy enough to drive and pay for the upkeep of a car – for others the cost of taxi fares and lack of a decent service can be a serious disincentive to enjoying our city centre evening economy.

I urge you to support this amendment.

 

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