Setting Slough’s 17/18 Revenue Budget – my speech to Council

Mr Mayor, tonight council will be approving a responsible and realistic budget for the people of Slough.

This budget spends over £100 million of public money on services that go well beyond cutting the grass and collecting bins. We are talking about services that directly impact on the lives of our residents.

Mr Mayor, this budget represents a step change in the core focus of this council. Through the commitments we make tonight this council will once again becomes focused on putting our residents first.

This budget creates jobs for our people, it builds homes for our people, it builds schools for our people, it looks after our most vulnerable, and puts right the failure to look after our children.

Despite government cuts, despite underfunding of adult care this is a truly fit for purpose budget.

Mr Mayor, I want to take the chamber through what we will be debating tonight. We look at our latest funding position, and I will take members through some of the challenges we have faced in setting this budget.

We will then look at how we will meet the £12.4 million worth of government cuts we’ve been dealt, and the investments we are making in our town and our residents.

We will then move onto hearing my cabinet members’ priorities for the year ahead – these are ambitious yet deliverable, plainly spoken, yet meeting the complex needs of our every changing town.

Cabinet has been listening to local people and the priorities they set tonight will meet the aspirations of our residents to improve the quality of life in our town and enhance the life chances of all our residents.

These priorities put this council in partnership with our residents so together we can build a town that works for all our residents.

Mr Mayor, I am proud to come to the chamber tonight and say that despite being faced with 80% cuts to our government grant and as a result having to find £12.4 million of savings I am presenting a budget which balances, is realistic, and as I said, is fit for purpose.

I want to thank the officers of this council who have worked tirelessly to get us to this position – a position many doubted we would be in. But one we have achieved despite the challenges we have faced.

First the large challenges such as the use of over £1 million of reserves to prop up last year’s budget, and the unplanned use of the SUR to plug its gaps.

Second, the small, but often harder to solve challenges – like the setting of unachievable and unrealistic income targets and the failure to account properly for the ceasing of certain government grants.

Mr Mayor, I want to provide the chamber some context to where we find ourselves and to the challenges we have faced down.

The national picture is grim. Austerity has failed. A government elected on the promise to reduce national debt has substantially increased it. The price for this failure has been ever more damaging cuts to those most in need, with the promise of more to come.

There is no hiding place from the fact that the most vulnerable and poorest members of our community are paying the heaviest price for this failure. Those suffering are in the most need, while those prospering are those with the most greed.

The graph in front us shows austerity has been self defeating. It has failed on its own terms. National debt soaring, inequality entrenched into society, and our most vulnerable forced to the margins as the government pulls up their drawbridge.

This Tory failure means another year of savings. Our second biggest in the last 5 years and up over £2 million on the year before.

The £12.4 million pounds of savings we are making this year takes the total government cuts to our budget and our town £54 million over the last 5 years.

Some members have been quoted saying this budget is the first in a new post-austerity era. I simply don’t see how they can make that statement and keep a straight face.

Next they will tell us night is day and day is night!

Mr Mayor, to myself, the majority of Slough’s residents and surely the majority of members in this chamber £12.4 million of government cuts to our town will not be seen as anything other than the continuation of the government’s corrosive austerity programme.

So we are left with few options and tonight we have to take some difficult decisions on savings and increased fees and charges. But in doing this we will not be cutting front line services.

Mr Mayor we continue to look at how we can become more efficient in what we do. So over the year ahead we will be reducing our agency staffing levels to save hundreds of thousands of pounds.

We will do more in house, our legal department is just one example of where we can use resources already allocated to save £300,000.

And we of course carry on with our transformation of adult social services which will save this council millions over the next 2 years.

We will also raise additional income by increasing fees and charges by around 1% in most cases, and in others by benchmarking the services we provide against neighbouring authorities.

I want to be clear with the chamber; these savings represent a real challenge to the council. But where there is challenge there is opportunity.

We must grasp this opportunity. But in doing so as a council we must show we are prepared to think and work differently.

There can be no more business as usual. We must move away from old ways of working, we must be more creative, more imaginative and more innovative.

Mr Mayor this year we begin that process. In doing so we will generate over £6 million in new and additional income streams. The council will be investing to earn.

By investing to earn we can keep hold of the services I know our residents value. The choice is simple adapt by investing to earn or cut services that residents rely on.

Investing to earn gives us the freedom to provide, protect and maintain our front line services.

Mr Mayor we will go beyond just investing to earn. Where it is right for Slough we will bring services back in house.

This will not only make us a saving, but make these services more transparent and accountable to the local taxpayer.

Just this year alone this process will save us almost £1 million by removing the profit element contractors charge us. Mr Mayor this budget removes public money, ratepayers’ hard earned money, from the pockets of faceless corporations and puts it back into public use.

Surely everyone in this chamber can agree, even those with a vested interest, that this is good news for Slough taxpayers. Returning money to public use, local control, local accountability – services that meet our residents needs and match our residents expectations.

Mr Mayor, despite the ongoing transformation, investing to earn, bringing contracts back in house and back office savings we still face a shortfall in our budget.

The £54 million worth of government cuts we have been handed have left us with little choice but to increase our element of council tax.

It is with a heavy heart that tonight I have to announce our element will rise by 1.71%. This is below the rate of inflation, and below the maximum we can increase it by.

We do this not by what we can, but by what we need to provide, protect and maintain our valued front line services.

I know this does not make it easier for many residents, but it is a decision made to protect our most vulnerable from the cruellest of cuts the government continues to throw at them.

Mr Mayor by all paying a little more we can provide, protect and maintain our front line services that our residents value so highly.

We are also faced with having to passport on the governments charge to make for up for its lack of funding for adult social care. A national crisis the government has ignored. A funding shortfall of over £2 billion, no answers from government, no backroom deals for Slough, just, it seems for Surrey.

And, to add insult to injury our residents are now being forced to pick up the tab for the government passing the buck on its failure to care.

This 3% charge will raise around £1.5 million for those who need it. It will provide those people a lifetime – it will mean they are supported to go about their daily lives.

Mr Mayor too often people equate talk of social care with people getting older, but we are now spending a vast amount on supporting people to live with ever more complex disabilities.

As things stand more than a million disabled people are living without social care. This governments callous cuts to the disabled have seen £28 billion slashed from social security for disabled people, the Independent Living Fund axed and benefit cuts that have resulted in wheelchairs and adapted cars being taken away.

I know this extra charge placed on our residents will hit their pockets.

But tonight I am appealing to Slough’s community spirit in saying that we cannot allow our most vulnerable people to suffer at the mercy of this government.

As a town we must and we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our most vulnerable residents.

Mr Mayor I began this evening by talking about the need to set a fit for purpose budget and that means we must account for the demographic changes are town is facing alongside realistic savings targets. Not to do so would be failing our town.

I have already mentioned the growth in social care, but I want to talk about a tricky subject for the Council – Children Services.

I was elected Leader of this town on the back of my severe concerns about how we were handling our children’s services. For too long we had been letting down our young people.

I’m proud to say that things have changed for us over the past 8 months and they will continue to Change and improve under this administration.

We have renewed and strengthened our relationship with Slough Children’s Services Trust, and are now working in partnership with them to get the best outcomes for our children.

The praise the Council’s leadership has received from government is testament to this. The progress has been rapid and dramatic; we are now finally getting it right for our children.

We’ve always been clear getting things right for our children is this administrations priority.

Tonight we are cementing that priority and the progress made to date by setting a fixed buyer which enables the Children’s Trust to look after our children. After years of failure, this is the least we can do.

But Mr Mayor we want to go beyond the least we can do. So tonight I can announce over the coming year we will work on policy that will se our care leavers exempt from paying council tax.

To expect some of our most vulnerable young people to pay council tax just days after leaving care is setting them up to fail, it just adds to the challenges they face. We should be removing these hurdles not adding to them.

So Mr Mayor, in addition we will also work on policy that guarantees our care leavers an apprenticeship with the council or one of our partners. After helping them back on their feet, we can now give our young people the chance to build positive futures for themselves.

Mr Mayor, its not just our young people we will be investing, we will be investing in the future of our town by creating jobs for our people. In the coming months we will be announcing details of the Slough Academy.

Working with partners we will train our residents to fill the jobs this town needs – from teachers to social workers. I cant think of a better way to give something back to the people of this great town than giving our residents the opportunity to earn a living serving our great town.

But, I do not want that to be the limit of our ambition. Over the next decade we have £1 billion of investment being delivered in Slough, and then Heathrow expansion to come.

This investment will create jobs and opportunities the like of which Slough has never seen. I want our residents to be at the front of the queue to grasp the benefits £1 billion of investment will bring.

Slough is a proud borough with a history of tackling challenges and opportunities head on and under my leadership we will invite government to work with Slough to create an enterprising borough by investing in infrastructure, transport, education and skills to support retail and business growth and creating successful opportunities to capture the benefits of inward investment.

So today I have written to the Prime Minister to inviter her to work us in putting Slough and our residents at the centre of a skills revolution in this country.

This new core focus on investing in the future of our residents does not hold back our ambition in investing in the town’s infrastructure. The numbers in front of you show you the extent if this ambition.

At least 190 new council homes, hundreds of new affordable homes, new and expanded schools, fit for purpose community hubs, a more vibrant town centre and a host of measures to make it easier to move around this town.

By listening to our residents, by responding to the needs of our residents, above all this budget builds strong and cohesive communities at a time when the rise of hate crime and our turbulent post EU referendum era is putting on the fabric of local communities under extreme stress.

Mr Mayor this is a budget which, when others elsewhere want to divide communities, brings communities together.