Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ignorance is no excuse for broken promises

Former Labour Cabinet Member, Councillor Keith Morrell, uses the same excuse that Southampton Labour Councillors are all starting to repeat since the election; namely that the have now "seen the council books."

You would imagine from this comment that "the books" are some hidden tome, locked away in a cupboard in the Civic Centre and that when the new Council Administration was elected in May they were then presented with a key so that they could unlock this secret information.

In fact the opposite is true. You have full access to all the financial information as a Councillor and indeed a responsibility to be aware of the state of the Council's finances. All Councillors are briefed by city officers, all the figures are presented in detail on the City Council website and it was only in February that every Councillor voted on budget proposals for the Council. Labour produced their own budget this year so you would have thought that they must known what they were doing.

When Labour made all their promises in the run up to the election they knew they had no intention of keeping them. Now they are in power they plead ignorance as their excuse.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Southampton to Share in New Government Funding for Schools

I was delighted to read yesterday that two Southampton Schools will benefit from the new Priority School Building Programme. Bitterne Park and Cedar School will benefit from the new £2b fund which is aimed at targeting improvements and repairs to those schools most in need of building works. 

I submitted a bid for these schools to the new scheme last year whilst in my role as Cabinet Member for Childrens' Services and was able to raise the issue of Southampton Schools with the Secretary of State for Education when he visited Southampton in March.

To see the full list of schools benefiting from the scheme click HERE and for Michael Gove's ministerial statement click HERE.

The extra funds come on the back of a separate award of £3.9 to the City Council in April, to fund new places that are needed in our primary schools.

The new money will all be put to good use very quickly with school rebuilds and repairs being completed within a couple of years.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"The lunatics are now in charge of the asylum"

Southampton City Council faces huge challenges in the years ahead. It must save £30M to balance the books next year alone. This is a big task, if at the same time Council Tax is to be kept down for residents who are already struggling with the rising cost of living, and services that are important to local people are to be protected.

The outgoing Conservative Administration understood this and for the past 5 years we have met these challenges head on. In our last 2 years we had to find £45M of savings and we did this whilst freezing council tax and protecting services to residents; like the weekly bin collections, Sure Start centres, libraries, leisure centres, supported bus routes, and at the same we were able to put more money into repairs to the roads and pavements and into looking after at risk children and vulnerable adults. We also kept council job cuts to the minimum and went all out to attract employment and business to the city.

We achieved all of this because we had a clear sense of direction, were prepared to make difficult decisions but be pragmatic where necessary. Most importantly we were honest and we never made a promise that we did not keep.

Labour by contrast, desperate for power, have promised the earth, but have no strategy to deal with the problems ahead. It is sadly inevitable that we now face several years of Labour tax hikes, service cuts and job cuts and that we will see them break one promise after another, letting down voters, users of council services, council staff and even their union backers.

Labour’s very first decision in office was to create, at taxpayers’ expense, extra jobs for their councillors, new committees and chairmanships. At any time this would be unsavoury and nepotistic but in the current financial climate it shows spectacularly bad judgement. It only adds to the financial difficulties of the City Council, meaning that more service cuts, job cuts and tax rises must be endured. But it highlights something even more worrying – that Labour still don’t get it and that they are still in denial about the state of the council’s finances.

Labour need to very quickly wake up, show some political maturity and urgently get in place some sort of plan. They need to start being honest with themselves and more importantly with the residents of Southampton. For the city’s sake I hope that this happens soon.

My fear is that it won’t and that as one constituent of mine put it in an email to me on the day after the elections, “the lunatics are now in charge of the asylum.”