This needs to be seen as widely as possible. I fully endorse @MayorDaveBudd in the way he explains how irresponsible and embarrassing the Tory & Independent Councillors on Middlesbrough Council have been towards setting the budget.
Dave writes: "[On Wednesday, 7th March], the Tory-Independent opposition presented possibly the daftest budget proposal I have ever seen. They demonstrated, yet again, their incapability of engaging with the hard graft and tough decisions needed in running Middlesbrough, and highlighted why we need to beat them at the next local elections.
Middlesbrough Council passed its 100-page budget for the coming year. To keep vital services such as children’s social care, care for older people, community hubs and area care, we voted to make savings and raise council tax.
I have explained previously how the Tory Government expect councils to raise council tax to plug the hole in public spending left by their reckless cuts, and that we have reluctantly had to do this. Despite supporting the Tory government and their cuts agenda, however, the local Tory/Independent opposition decided they also opposed tax rises and claimed to have an alternative budget to avoid it.
When they came to present their budget however, the Council’s most senior legal and financial officers - who are politically-neutral and there to ensure the Council conducts its business on a legal basis - warned the Council that at no point had the Tory/Independent coalition bothered to submit their ‘alternative budget’ to be checked to see if it was legal. Nor that it was balanced (a legal requirement). The ‘alternative budget’ had no equality impact assessment or any ability for the public to be consulted, either. Officers therefore gave the opinion that the Council would be acting outside of the law in considering it.
This was disappointing as many wanted to hear how our local Tories had managed to do what 95% of councils across the country have failed to do this year – deal with government cuts without raising council tax.
Fortunately, a few copies of their bungled budget were left in the Council chamber. It amounted to just one page and was probably one of the daftest proposals I have ever seen. It included:
*Chief Officer Initiatives*- The Council's Corporate Initiatives budget is the budget that events such as Remembrance Day are funded from.
*Merging the post of the Mayor and Chief Executive* – this is actually illegal as an elected politician cannot also work for the Council.
*Cap salaries at £75.000* – Not only would this leave Middlesbrough hugely out of step with every other council in the country and unable to recruit officers to head up vital service areas like Children’s Social Care, it would be impossible to meddle with existing staff contracts in time for the start of the financial year. – plus the cost of redundancies would have to be considered.
*Big Screen* – The current screen is not in use and there are no current plans to replace it. There is a one-off £500,000 in our investment programme for infrastructure to Centre Square to make it easier for events to be put on, not on a new TV screen. This money is a one-off investment in our capital budget, which cannot be transferred to our revenue budget – a key point that the opposition never bother to try to understand.
*Reduce Spending in Legal Overspend* – our legal team work extremely hard -ensuring the Council meets its legal duties and obligations- with increasing workloads. It is not clear how the Tories plan to achieve a whopping £800,000 cut here.
*Cease Funding for the Member’s Lounge Refreshments* – Anyone who has ever used the old coffee machine in the Town Hall would feel very short-changed by this figure.
* Cease grant to Mima* aside from putting the future of a world-famous symbol of Middlesbrough and its culture, we have a contractual obligation with the University, so the Council would be acting unlawfully and in breach of contract and potentially liable to pay a much greater sum if sued.
*Reduction in the purchase of external publications*– a £20,000 saving which, if they had bothered to read the actual budget, is far smaller than the £65,000 saving identified over the next three years.
Yet again, the Conservative-Independent coalition has let down the people of Middlesbrough. Despite significant offers of assistance from politically-neutral officers, they chose to ignore all advice on how to put together a proposal. Yet again, they have failed to take Middlesbrough’s finances seriously and have instead tried to fool voters into thinking there are easy solutions to the most difficult problems.
Elected Mayor of Middlesbrough