Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Southwark's Budget 2008/09

Next week Council Assembly will meet to set Southwark's Council Tax for the coming year. Proposals to be considered by the Tory/LibDem Executive this evening suggest that their proposal will be for a 4% Council Tax increase, together with a 50% increase in Meals on Wheels charges; the closure of the Livesey Childrens Museum on the Old Kent Road, and huge cuts to the Community Warden programme.

For the last month the Leader of the Council has used every opportunity to scare residents about cuts to local services, from the continued regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate to the closure of Camberwell Leisure Centre. In fact, and not surprisingly, none of those threatened cuts have made it through to the final budget proposals.

But the cuts and increased charges which are proposed hit young people and older people in the borough the hardest. The LibDems talk about tackling poverty, but their budget proposals hit those in most need the hardest. And this is not a budget about prudence and tough choices - it is about cynical election planning. The reason why the Livesey Museum must close in order to save £140,000 is because the LibDems and Tories want to bank that money in reserve funds for future years - so that they can produce a lower Council Tax increase "out of the hat" in time for the 2010 local elections.

To my mind a museum staying open NOW so that it can continue to serve the 17,000 children who visit it each year is of much greater service to the people of Southwark than £140,000 sitting in a reserve fund for election purposes. And a 50% increase in Meals on Wheels, imposed upon some of our most vulnerable residents regardless of their ability to pay, is appalling and mean spirited. What inflation index are the LibDems and Tories looking at when they think that a 50% increase is reasonable?

Labour will propose an alternative budget which will mean that for the sixth year in a row, a Labour Council in Southwark would have delivered a lower Council Tax increase. And we will use the recognised Bank of England inflation index - the consumer price index, as the guide for judging what is affordable for Council Tax payers in Southwark.

And by freeing up money which would otherwise sit in reserves or go to pay consultants and agency staff our budget amendment will mean that we can keep the Livesey Childrens Museum open; that those reliant on Meals on Wheels will not have to find ANY increase this year, and which will invest more money in community safety and the services which people look to the Council to provide.

I am proud to be part of a party which is serious about tackling poverty, and whose deeds match its words. I just hope that not too many vulnerable people have to suffer food poverty and not too many children lose the opportunity to visit their local museum before we have the opportunity to deliver on our promises for the people of Southwark.

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