Matt Hartley on council budgets

Cllr Matt Hartley is opposition leader on Greenwich council

Greenwich councillors recently voted on the council’s budget for 2019/20 – without a doubt, the most important vote that takes place in the town hall each year, and one that follows a debate that is always argued with some force and passion.

As leader of the opposition, each year I work with council officers and my eight Conservative colleagues to develop alternative budget proposals in response to the Labour administration’s plans for how the council will spend local taxpayers’ money in the year ahead.

This year, we welcomed some aspects of the administration’s budget proposal – and in particular, Labour’s belated acceptance that efficiency savings in the council’s back office functions are possible, without affecting frontline services.

For years we have been making the case that at a time of financial constraint, the council has a duty to make every efficiency saving it can before asking the taxpayer to contribute more.

Unfortunately, despite belatedly accepting the need to make £2.25million in back office savings, Labour councillors still refuse to put an end to several big areas of wasteful spending.

Our alternative budget proposals identified £1.3million a year in waste and inefficiency that could be removed without affecting a single frontline service.

This includes £451,000 a year wasted on Labour’s pointless Greenwich Info magazine, £246,000 in taxpayer subsidies for trade union activity, £74,000 a year on PR, professional photography and corporate communications, and £74,000 a year that could be saved by cutting the cost of local politics, as well as other savings and efficiency improvements.

To be blunt, this is £1.3million a year that could and should be spent on helping vulnerable people.

For the third time, Conservative councillors put to a vote our proposal to lift residents on the lowest incomes out of council tax altogether, funded by scrapping the waste and inefficiencies we have identified.

For the third time, Labour councillors were whipped to vote it down.

Even worse, the Labour leadership have broken a promise that was made this time last year, to implement this very tax cut for low income residents this April.

With the local elections out of the way, their public commitment to implement our proposal was quietly shelved by the council’s new Labour leadership.

This is a simple question of priorities – and I’m afraid that the council’s new leadership has shown yet again that theirs are all wrong.

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