Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Norfolk County Council Budget Speech - 20th February 2017

My speech to Norfolk County Council budget meeting - 20th February 2017: Mr Chairman, at the start of this debate the Leader of the Council, Mr Cliff Jordan (Conservative), said that it was his "Pleasure" to propose this budget. I thought that maybe it was a slip of the tongue - a strange word to use in this context, pleasure? But it was followed up by the Deputy Leader Mrs Alison Thomas who also used the word pleasure and went on further to say that she commended the budget proposals to us.
I take no pleasure from this process whatsoever. I don't know how someone can commend what is before us today.
I take no pleasure in a budget that will be to the detriment to some of the most vulnerable people in Norfolk. Older people with a reduced quality of life, younger people receiving less support if they were to find themselves homeless. Disabled residents with reduced opportunities. That's what is before us. I take no pleasure from these proposals. I also don't think there is much financial sense in the proposals - think of one aspect - cuts to services for younger people - work such as that undertaken by the Benjamin Foundation and YMCA - think of the cost to the taxpayer from future generations failed at an early stage rather than receiving the support and intervention that could have put them on the right path early on.
Support early on saves far more money in the long run.
There are bigger issues at work here. More fundamental issues. Our society is changing and the mechanisms and support services needed are not keeping up with that change.
One of the biggest changes which the country and particularly Norfolk faces is our aging population. This should be celebrated. We're living longer thanks to medical advancements and other improvements. But with this change in our society we have to recognise that our structures in society need to change. Our NHS is struggling for a variety of reasons, a lack of funding yes, but demand is increasing and costs increasing. Year on year cuts to adult social care is without doubt contributing to that increasing demand at the other end. A reduction in preventative action, means there are pieces that have to be picked up later on -often at greater cost. We are reducing financial support at a time when we should be doing the exact opposite.
This approach of reductions in funding, like this budget, is not a solution. It's a sticking plaster. It's a delaying of the inevitable of what is required, a more fundamental change in care support, a change too in the way local government is funded.
I also take no pleasure in this budget given the increase in council tax proposed. Council tax is a regressive tax, different neighbours on a street can pay the same tax for the property, despite their financial differences, as the tax takes no account of their ability to pay or individual circumstances.
The affect of this near £60 band D increase will be felt to lesser or greater extents by residents across Norfolk depending on the extent to which district councils support disadvantaged people with council tax. Breckland Council does not support those on low incomes with their council tax payments. This increase will cause hardship. National priorities filtering down to people in my division - I don't doubt the desire of the residents I represent to fund services and pay their fair share - but paying more, receiving less support, all at a time when some of the wealthiest in society are paying less into the pot than they previously were - that would test the charitable will of many.
Because let's face it - this increase is not to improve services provided. It's purely to substitute the loss of money from government. The increase is not to fund something new. We are asking for more money but proposing to deliver less. The increase is purely plugging the reduced support from the Conservative government.
So I am happy to support the Labour Group amendment, it goes some way towards addressing the harshness of these proposals for the most vulnerable but regardless of whatever is adopted today, we should all be aware of the fact that whatever we adopt is in no way a solution and we should most certainly take no pleasure whatsoever from it.

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