Tuesday, July 29, 2008

£6.8 Million Extra for Southwark

Two weeks ago I wrote an open letter to the local papers asking the LibDem Leader of the Council to set out his plans for spending £6.8 million of extra money which the Labour Government had given to Southwark. The money came through the 'LABGI' funding scheme, and is a reward to councils for business development. After making savage and unnecessary budget cuts at the start of the year (in order to fulfil some wildly inaccurate claim about Government cuts) I urged Cllr Stanton to use this money to re-open the popular Livesey Childrens Museum; reverse the 50% increase in Meals on Wheels Charges, and ease the proposed changes to Social care in Southwark. Even with this extra spending there would still be a healthy surplus from the near £7million.

Last week Cllr Tim McNally responded to my letter, again on the pages of Southwark News. Cllr McNally accused me of incompetence or deliberately misleading the people of Southwark, as he claimed that the £6.8 million "was not new money. It was already in the budget."

As a result of this put-down I checked my facts. Southwark Council agreed its budget on the 20th of February 2008. Anything that was or should have been in the budget was set at that time. There was no mention of LABGI money in that budget. That was not a surprise, as the Department for Communities and Local Government ('DCLG') did not inform Southwark and all other local councils that there may be any LABGI money until the 2nd of April 2008, and did not make its final announcement with final figures until the 28th of June 2008.

I also spoke to a senior Finance Officer at the Council. He told me that the £6.8 million was NOT in the budget and it came as a complete surprise when it was announced. It has been put into the Council's reserves and not spent.

So, it is safe to conclude that (a)the £6.8 million I queried is NEW money and (b) it was NOT in the budget.

Far from me being incompetent and misleading the public I think I can safely reverse the charge and make it against Cllr McNally. He is the Executive Member for Resources and has a duty to take care of the Council's budget. I think the residents of Southwark can expect him to give truthful and accurate information when asked. He has completely failed to do this and preferred political point-scoring against me rather than giving an honest answer.

Whatever his explanation for his extraordinary and misleading letter to Southwark News, I do not think he is fit for the post he holds.

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