Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pledge No. 6 - Putting Sutton Residents First

We need to ensure that Sutton residents get the highest priority from the Council and its partners in the services that they provide. With 40% of residents commuting to London, it is important to encourage the use of local shops, businesses and services in order to ensure their long term viability.

We will explore a priority card, allowing residents discounts for some council services and more convenient access to services. Uses can include reduced parking costs, access to leisure centres and libraries and proof of residency for access to the council dump.

The card will always remain voluntary with the privacy of residents being at the forefront of our thinking. Beyond council services, we will work with local businesses to provide discounts and other offers to help boost the local economy, especially in the smaller shopping areas such as Cheam, Carshalton, Wallington and Worcester Park.

Succesful projects in Hillingdon, Camden and Kensington & Chelsea have demonstrated the benefits in both promoting local enterprises and ensuring residents get the best deal from the very services that they help pay for through their Council Tax. Oyster card and micropayment technology can be added at a later date when appropriate, affordable and reliable should residents agree.

Our Commitment: We will put residents first by giving them a priority card, placing them at the front of the queue for council services and work with local businesses to provide discounts and benefits.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Three Strikes and Brown's Out

Up until today the 'Spring of Discontent' was limited to a double whammy of strikes by BA staff and the threat of a nationwide rail strike at Easter. Today Civil Servants of the PCS Union joined them with a budget day strike.

Whilst Alistair Darling puts off dealing with the country's deficit until another day, the public sector are getting nervy ahead of inevitable cuts. Whilst the Labour Party are reliant on money from Unite, they are getting a kicking from the same union whilst they string along their members by being in denial about the scale of the problem and refusing to tackle it until way after the election.

Looks like the boxing analogy needs to change to a baseball one; three strikes and you're out.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

David Cameron Unplugged

David Cameron's visit to Lewisham showed a start contrast between him and Gordon Brown. No stage management, no hand-picked audience. Instead he faced a few questions from some feisty students and journalists. Cameron was open and honest about the hard choices that the government faces, not backing away from tackling any of the questions thrown at him. We need more of this, instead of pet interviewers being rolled in to impart set messages.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pledge No. 5 - Transparency

Trust in politics is low. We will make a start in changing this by being open and transparent, publishing every item of council spending over £500. It's your money; we'll be straight with you. We should be accountable when spending your money.

I've seen this work in other authorities. People consider their actions more carefully when they are laid open to wider scrutiny. The very act of publishing the figures is likely to help drive down costs. Looking back at a list of items of council spending from the previous year might also be an enlightening experience for residents who are paying their council tax without much idea where their money is going.

Our Commitment: We will publish all council spending over £500 on Sutton's website.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Liberal Democrats Reject Council Tax Cut

Last night, Sutton Council’s Liberal Democrat establishment rejected our fully-costed plans to cut the council tax by nearly 2% this year, and to freeze the tax for three years in a row thereafter. In a stunning act of arrogance one longstanding Liberal Democrat councillor said it was “a privilege to pay council tax” in an embarrassing outburst.

Above, you can read the budget response given by the Conservatives’ Finance and Value for Money Spokesman, Councillor Tim Crowley as he presented a costed Alternative Budget with details to cut the council tax by 1.75% and to provide a raft of new ground-breaking proposals.

Among the new positive proposals in the Alternative Budget were plans for a rewards scheme to pay residents for the amount of waste they recycle, an Armed Forces council tax discount of 50% and a new priority card for Sutton residents providing discounts in local shops and businesses, plus preferential rates for council services such as leisure centres, parking and theatres.

The Liberal Democrats’ budget provision for a council tax freeze was described as an election ploy after years of punishing above inflation increases. But an extraordinary outburst from Wallington Liberal Democrat councillor Richard Bailey left the Council’s leadership team red-faced when he described the payment of council tax as a “privilege”.

Councillor Crowley outlined savings which included reductions in the Council’s reliance on outside consultants, streamlining communications work, making Sutton Scene magazine entirely self-funding, and a freeze in additional staff recruitment with net savings of £1.472m – the same amount needed to cut council tax by 1.75%.

Commenting Tim Crowley said: “When the Liberal Democrats voted against our Budget they voted against a cut in council tax, against increased investment in training for adult social services, against a residents’ priority card for services and shops, and against a 50% discount for British soldiers on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We know what they are against but what are they for? Our Budget provides positive plans to put more money in residents’ pockets and to roll out a range of new popular proposals. It’s a shame that the Liberal Democrats could not put residents first and politics second to vote for this forward-thinking budget.”

Monday, March 01, 2010

Sutton Conservatives to propose 1.75% cut in Council Tax

Tonight sees the last Council budget before the local elections on May 6th. The LibDems have taken our advice a year late and frozen Council Tax. In those last 12 months, whilst waiting for them to catch up, the Conservative Councillors having been continuing their research with the result being our alternative proposal that the Council should cut tax by 1.75%. This is based on the most conservative figures provided.

Despite reducing the money that we would take from taxpayers, we have found money to introduce a number of policies including an incentive-based recycling scheme, the reintroduction of 200 visitor hours for those living in Sutton's Controlled Parking Zones and a 50% Council Tax discount for residents in the Armed Forces whilst serving overseas on active duty. We have even doubled the amount put aside in case of overspend at the controversial £8.5m Sutton Life Centre since it is clear that this will be a burden to local taxpayers for sometime to come.

Getting accurate figures about how many consultants that we employ and how many vacant posts, which are budgeted for but not filled, has been incredibly difficult with different parts of the council saying different things. Our savings mainly come from 3 areas.
  • We will reduce the number of consultants. All too often, someone leaves the employ of the Council to step back into the Civic the next day on an inflated fee based on a day-rate.
  • We will change the approach of the Council to move away from day-rates toward specific results and time frames so that jobs cannot be spun out.
  • We will remove unnecessary vacant posts from departmental budgets and freeze additional staff recruitment for two years whilst shielding primary council services from any cuts following a comprehensive staff review.
  • We will reduce communication costs. We have a contract to provide communication services. We should not be paying others to duplicate effort.
  • We will make Sutton Scene self-financing.
  • We will reduce the overall amount of allowances that councillors take and freeze allowances across the board for one year.
So, to summarise, we will reduce our dependency on highly-paid consultants, get rid of non-jobs, spend less on telling residents how well we are doing and reducing the cost of politicians whilst still improving services.