Budget under fire
Met with Theresa Grant and Ian Duncan to discuss the budget for Transformation and Resources.
I’m particularly concerned about:
- the ending of the mobile library service: according to the Draft Budget the termination of the Mobile Library Service will save just £8000 which seems remarkably low but the van is on a long lease and probably costs more to surrender than to continue. Given the low level of saving I can’t support the end of this service.
- Communications: Although there will be savings brought about by centralising the Council’s PR, Trafford has not put its magazine ‘Your Trafford’ into the mix and it’s being protected. I believe this is an insult to those staff losing their jobs. ‘Your Trafford’ is one of those anodyne and self-congratulatory indulgences beloved of councils. What’s even more infuriating is that the Conservative
Secretary of State for Local Government denounced, Eric Pickles, denounced these town hall pravdas that end up in the bin. No doubt Trafford’s Conservative Group all nodded with agreement at this sage advice, failing to acknowledge that ‘Your Trafford’ was just another ‘Hurrah for Us, Aren’t we Clever’ piece of rubbish that goes straight to recycling. At a cost of aproximately £100,000, it would more than be enough to save the Mobile Library service.
Traffords answer to suggestions from the citizen’s debate ‘Some proposed that ‘Your Trafford’ be stopped was that ‘it is important that the Council has a way to inform residents of its services and performance, and other statutory requirements such as informing residents about how to vote in local elections. Loosely translated that’s ‘Hurrah for us’. With such a difficult budget, it’s simply indefensible to ignore the clamour for this to be scrapped.
Whilst on the subject of publications, I asked about Trafford’s affiliation to the LGA (Local Government Association. I support Trafford’s membership of the umbrella organisation but I’m increasingly fed up with the parafanalia that goes with it. All Trafford’s councillors receive a weekly magazine from the LGA and yes it’s another ‘Hurrah for us’ magazine. Now I don’t know how much the specific costs are but would guess it’s more than a £1.50 a week for each councillor and I haven’t come across a single councillor who feels its essential reading. And there’s all the other stuff that the LGA puts on with London conferences. I believe they can cut down drastically and reduce Trafford’s affiliation fees. I would not be surprised if we could achieve over £20k. Its rather academic as we couldn’t achieve the budget saving in this coming year.
- Finance – This directorate is getting a cut of £0.75m, nearly a quarter of its costs. Yes the public are asking for back office functions to be first in the line for cuts but Finance does perform an important function. Trafford has a good record in the collection of Council Tax. I would not like to be regretting this cut in a year’s time. There’s not a lot of IT enhancements going on in this team and the budget narrative refers only to training costs being reduced. This doesn’t fill me with confidence that the savings can be achieved. It was acknowledged that there were risks.
- Libraries becoming a Trust – This is in its early days of policy development but the Council has earmarked £40,000 to develop the proposals. There are savings that could be realised if the library buildings were to be placed in the ownership of a charitable trust particularly in respect of Business Rates. Both Wigan and Salford have pursued this line. But there are risks as well and I’m not sure what would happen if Libraries were to ‘fail’. Additionally we have Access Trafford – the customer interface of the Council placed in the libraries. How will this be affected? We really need to scrutinise these proposals before £40k is committed.
I wasn’t able to make it to Trafford Healthcare Trust Board. I attended a school governors committee meeting.
I also withdrew my objection to the ‘Bowlers Disco’ license application. I retain doubts about this; it’s a large music venue and will if successful bring three to four thousand young people at weekends to a very deserted part of Trafford Park. The main concern I had was of people being ejected from the premises and hanging around waiting for the coach to depart. There’s really nowhere for them to go unless they walk via Parkway to Lostock Circle. However the police feel that they’ve been able to extract agreement to conditions that evictees are looked after. In actual fact the conditions to the license are quite tight which is why I withdrew my objection; but we’ll have to see whether they’re workable or achievable.
Council Meeting – Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts, Divisional Commander of Trafford.Police.gave a presentation on a brilliant performance in reducing crime and increasing detection. The police are in line for huge Government Cuts and it seems criminal to doing this when we’ve all seen the benefits of effective policing.
Unfortunately we didn’t have a great deal of time to debate the five motions put to council. Having said that full council is really an opportunity just to be rude to each other. There are more important aspects of being a councillor and thankfully Full Council meets less than a dozen times a year.
Holocaust Memorial Day – I’m not big on civic ceremonial engagements but I do try to make myself free for the Holocaust memorial at Sale Waterside. We should never forget.
Met with Kate Green and Labour activists outside Seymour Park Junior School for a school gate surgery session. Huge amounts of support for Labour and lots of worries over the damage the cuts are bringing.
Labour Policy Planning Day – Standing only room – signifies the anger at the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat Government. People want to be involved in winning back power from their idealogically driven agenda.