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My speech in support of the Liberal Democrat County Council budget amendment

by Steff on 21 February, 2022

I recognise the challenges of putting together a balanced budget in these times of financial strain, and given the total lack of delivery by this ex government in waiting.

And I welcome some of the alternative transport initiatives that the Cabinet Member for Finance highlighted.

But he can only work with what he’s given, and it’s in these budget meetings that we really get to see this administration’s true colours.

Overall this is plainly a shut your eyes and hope for the best budget.

And it’s clear to me this administration is unambitious, out of touch and confused:

Out of touch with the cost of living crisis and how in particular it’s affecting households on lowest incomes as my colleague Brian Watkins highlighted.

Unambitious in tackling the climate crisis, and

Confused about modern organisational management.

And the frustrating thing is that so many of these things – if they were made priorities – would complement each other.

The time for a relief on council tax was last year when we were deep in lockdown – as Liberal Democrat run North Norfolk District Council did.  This week, led by Tim Adams, they will show people what putting the environment at the heart of local government budget can do for wellbeing, quality of life, leisure services, taxpayer value and, equally importantly, business growth too.

No, renewable energy, home insulation, and alternative transport, not roadbuilding – are the fastest way to tackle the climate emergency, and bring down household bills. 

Just to remind members:

The Bank of England has warned this squeeze on workers will get worse, with inflation set to rise above 7% this year.

Paul Dales, chief UK economist for Capital Economics has said “more interest rate hikes are likely, perhaps from 0.5% now to 1.25% this year and to 2% next year.”

Petrol prices have soared to a record high of over 148p a litre filling a 55-litre family car now costs an eye-watering £81.41

And gas prices on global markets are around four times higher than they were a year ago

Norfolk needs bold leadership, and a vision for how the whole of Norfolk can tackle the cost of living crisis by addressing the climate emergency, if it’s to move forwards. 

But “Together for Norfolk” seems to be more concerned with endless tax reduction and cost cutting than it does actually setting forth a vision for what a green, growing Norfolk looks like. 

With this shut your eyes and hope budget, the Conservatives are holding Norfolk Back.

And yet we need all the help we can get. 

The leader mentioned levelling up – but the levelling up white paper contains little for Norfolk – and, embarrassingly for those new Tory MPs who boasted about being in the party of government, no projects whatsoever in areas like North Norfolk. 

The help isn’t going to come from the outside like the conservatives on this council have often promised it would in the past.

If this isn’t already clear, then it will become clear next year when the holes my colleague Dan Roper pointed out really start to emerge.

But rather than trying to lead from the front, and tackle the cost of living crisis through home insultation, renewable energy and public transport, this council is holding Norfolk back. 

They have put up council tax by more than 20% in five years.  I ask the people of Norfolk: have you seen a 20% increase in services? 

These plans – which the leader assures us are brimming with ‘action’ – are hollow.  The only clear significant plan – and this is the most scandalous part – is to allow a consultancy company to trouser more than five million pounds in order to deliver £1m of annual savings.  As someone with a strong background in innovation, I can assure Cllr Borrett that indeed we do believe that the team in adult services have the knowledge and experience to improve the design of the services they offer with less reliance on external expertise.  In fact, it sounded like he had a good list of initiatives to start with!

The Conservative party has run out of ideas, and whilst I have deep respect for many of the members in this chamber, both in my party and in others, conservative ideology is holding Norfolk back. 

Please, support this amendment and correct just one of the egregious elements in this budget.

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