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.”