Once again, the Conservative administration on Basildon Borough Council have delivered for our residents. I was pleased and proud to vote in favour of the Budget, which has frozen the Council Tax – the FOURTH year running that Basildon Tories have delivered either a freeze or a cut to the Council Tax for our hard-working residents.
This was very much a good news budget. It was delivered under extreme financial pressures and during the most challenging economic climate in living memory – thanks to the last Labour Government’s disastrous mismanagement of the British economy. All Local Authorities are operating in deeply constrained circumstances. Nevertheless, and despite these challenges, along with the Council Tax freeze, this Administration was able to mitigate rent rises for social tenants and also commit funds for vital investment across the Borough. Here in Billericay, there was yet more welcome investment with the free parking at weekends and at Christmas in Billericay High Street now no longer a one-off but formally secured and written into the budget. This will give much needed support to the life and vitality of our High Street and the local businesses that operate there. It is a massive vote of confidence in Billericay. There is also to be a major revamp of Billericay Swimming Pool, something else that will be hugely appreciated and enjoyed by local residents.
It is important to note the behaviour of the Opposition parties during these proceedings. Firstly, every penny piece of that investment in Billericay was voted AGAINST by the Labour Group (including their Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Basildon & Billericay constituency – so remember that in 2015!). Labour, like all the Opposition parties on the Council, had full access to Council Officers and to all the same facts, figures and statistics as members of the Administration. It was therefore open to the Labour Group leader, Cllr Nigel Smith, to put together an Alternative Budget, had he wished to. All the parties have that right and, while I can understand and appreciate why the three Independent and two Liberal Democrats may have chosen not to, the failure of Councillor Smith and his colleagues to do so is unforgivable.
Councillor Smith has been quoted in the press as saying that he and his Labour colleagues are “ready, willing and able” to take administration of Basildon Council in May. If that were the case, was it not beholden upon them to produce a comprehensive and properly costed Alternative Budget? Do the people of this Borough not deserve to be told what an incoming Labour administration would do? But, alas, this is not how the Labour Group likes to operate. This year, as last year, Labour fudged their opportunity to produce an Alternative Budget but, of course, that did not stop Mr Smith from taking the opportunity, during his speech in the Council Chamber, to rattle out a whole raft of wholly uncosted and unfunded commitments to ‘cut this’ and ‘spend more on that’. Mr Smith pulled this trick last year and it was only some time afterwards that the various commitments he outlined in his speech were totted up and a £1million black-hole in his spending plans was discovered.
This year, Conservative councillors decided not to let Labour get away with it. This time, we took notes throughout Mr Smith’s speech – every budget he said he would slash, every item he said he would plough money into – and, during a short recess, we totted these figures up and, because the Labour Group decided not to propose these policies themselves, we did it for them. Councillor Ball proposed an amendment to his own Budget titled ‘the Labour Proposals’. This gave Council the opportunity to vote on and debate the measures outlined in Mr Smith’s speech. The Opposition were assured that if there was anything we had gotten wrong, anywhere we had misquoted their leader or got the figures wrong, they were welcome to correct the record. Sadly, Labour did not rise to this challenge. Instead, they sat on their hands and whinged at the Mayor and spouted a lot of procedural gobbledegook, tried to flummox the proceedings, and denied the policies outlined in the amendment were theirs (even through they were lifted verbatim from their own leader’s speech delivered just a few moments earlier). Labour could not even bring themselves to vote in favour of policies outlined by their own leader. Heck, the leader himself couldn’t bring himself to vote for them!
This tells you all you need to know about Labour’s real readiness to take administration in Basildon. They have no proper plan, no proper policies, just a series of knee-jerk reactions, platitudinous whinging in the face of a dire economic situation their party is responsible for, and a total unwillingness to properly engage in a debate about what they would do if they were in power. They complained bitterly after the meeting that they had been ‘prevented from speaking’ despite the fact that during the entire earlier debate on social housing – something Labour councillors purport to care deeply about – not a single Labour councillor put their hands up to speak (except for a few very perfunctory remarks by their deputy leader) and, of course, their refusal to speak to the proposed amendment outlining their own policies.
So, in May, when you come to cast your votes in the local elections for Basildon Borough Council, you all need to ask yourselves: Who do you trust with your money?
Oh, and by the way, if any of you were wondering where Basildon Council’s lone UKIP councillor was during all this, he made a short speech in which he declared his apparent intention to abstain on the grounds that he had read the budget but ‘did not understand’ it. We will never know if he would have abstained or not though because he actually snuck out half way through the meeting and went home without having voted at all.