The Medway Labour and Co-operative Group held the Conservative-led council to account on their 2021 budget last week, which included a 4.99% council tax increase for local residents alongside the news that Splashes Sports Centre would not receive the £5million refurbishment promised by the Council in July last year.
The budget, put forward by the Conservative Council Leader Alan Jarrett, revealed a £3.155m deficit as council finances are put under a huge amount of pressure through empty Government promises and questionable Council-led investments such as the purchase of the Pentagon Centre.
Cllr Naushabah Khan, Medway Labour and Co-operative Group Spokesperson for Housing and Employment said that, ‘This budget reflects the slow and confused Government response to the pandemic, but also the same lacklustre approach of Medway Conservatives. This ultimately highlights just how out of touch the Council leadership is with our communities and the little understanding they have of the impact on people’s lives.
‘Our hardworking council staff have truly stepped up in the most challenging circumstances, and it would have been good to see long-term recognition of this by supporting union proposals for a 1.3% cost of living pay increase. Whilst we absolutely welcome the discretionary payment, the current budget proposals potentially represent a pay cut in real terms.
‘I also have concerns in relation to the overreliance on the property sector and the risk posed by Medway Development Company, which simply represents an attempt to cover for the failure of national Government to properly finance local authorities.’
Cllr Andy Stamp, Medway Labour and Co-operative Group Spokesperson for Regeneration and Communities said that, ‘I have some serious concerns about the assumptions in this budget, namely that the Council will receive government compensation for the loss of income for the whole of the 2021-22 financial year without official confirmation. If the Government only deliver what has already been agreed, this will blow a £7 million hole in the Council’s finances. This is a reckless decision on the part of the Council, and I am shocked to see the Council Leader put the people of Medway in such a precarious position.
‘Similarly, it’s disappointing to see buried deep in the budget papers, news that the Splashes refurbishment project will not go ahead. Back in July, the Labour group raised reservations about the size of the £5 million price tag placed on the refurbishment. Once again our fears appear to have been realised, as not only were a wave of redundancies made but as exposed by a fleeting reference in the budget papers, the project is not expected to go ahead.
‘It’s also very frustrating to see yet again the Labour Group’s warnings on the purchase of the Pentagon Centre were not heeded. Two years ago, we urged the council to seek further valuations prior to purchasing the site, in order to ensure local taxpayers were getting value for money. Unfortunately, the Council’s aim of securing a £1 million-a-year profit from the £45 million purchase is now in tatters, and it’s looking increasingly likely that this will become a financial liability rather than a sound investment.
‘The Council must urgently rethink its Pentagon Centre strategy, and adapt to new patterns of consumption and social needs before it is too late to prevent a spiral of decline in Chatham.’
Cllr Clive Johnson, Medway Labour and Co-operative Group Spokesperson for Children and Young People said that, ‘The council has absolute duty to protect families, and the Labour Group will continue to hold the council to its commitment to protect what our young people need from the pressure to cut budgets.
‘Medway council is finally catching up with the Labour group’s long standing and humane commitment to families with children who have special needs. But there is still a long way to go as Medway families will testify.’
Cllr Teresa Murray, Deputy Leader of the Medway Labour and Co-operative Group and spokesperson for Health and Adult Social Care said that, ‘This budget highlights financial pressures on this vital service upwards of £3million, alongside service cuts as demands increase. The sad fact is that by continuing these cuts, hardworking staff simply have to make do with less, while those who are cared for pay more and the fragility of the service increases.
‘The efforts our social care teams make to work in partnership with the NHS are impressive – however this work is not matched by any determination on the part of either the Government or Medway Conservative’s administration.
Cllr Vince Maple, Leader of the Medway Labour and Co-operative Group and Spokesperson for Finance and Democracy said that, ‘Politics is about priorities, and the Conservative council have made it perfectly clear with this budget that their priority is not with the people of Medway.
‘Both locally and nationally, the Conservatives have been too slow to act in the pandemic – whether that be through school closures, exam arrangements, extensions to the furlough scheme or free school meals – the response has been one of chaos and confusion.
‘This Council will be raising the average Medway household’s council tax bill by £87 a year with a 4.99% increase – at a time where almost every family is experiencing increased financial pressure.
‘We are also still yet to see an apology from either the leader of the Council or the portfolio holder, who earlier this year U-turned on shameful plans to increase the cost of crematorium services by almost 50%.
‘What is abundantly clear from the Conservative Council’s budget and the actions of central government, is that the working families in Medway are not the priority.
‘To the people of Medway, I say this; the decade of cuts from Downing Street are being paid for by people in your street, you deserve better from your government and your council.’