Sadly the administration have voted 32 – 18 in favour of putting up the Council Tax and precept by 3.99%. (2 abstentions). This is disappointing for our residents who have suffered the extent of lockdown restrictions at home and in business.
I managed to get through half of my speech but here it is in full.
Thank You Madam Mayor
In every way Covid-19 has taken its toll on life. On the physical, mental and financial health of our families and residents.
We surely cannot be asking our residents to pay for this pandemic any more than they have already and to fund the mistakes, cronyism and broken promises of this government. This has been a year like no other. An unprecedented year that has kept friends and families apart and the elderly isolated.
It has prevented business owners from trading and employees from working. Schools have had to shutdown which has increased the financial strain at home for our residents with increased food budgets and utility usage. Many have lost their jobs without a replacement and others have had their livelihoods put on hold with no guarantee of return. With savings used up many are rock bottom, struggling to cope with their bills, rents and mortgages. The Trussell Trust report a 61% increase in Foodbank usage. The most vulnerable are not managing and have been making harsh decisions, some taking on more debt, some taking their life. This is why the Chancellor must reverse the decision to cut universal credit on March 3rd.
And of course, this year has seen many of our residents hospitalised, on ventilators, suffering long and frightening illness and sadly many deaths and the loss of many loved ones. The financial cost while trying to deal with the emotional cost must have been shattering and overwhelming.
While our priority is to get the vaccines out across the borough and to beat this virus, we also need to be ready to ease business and employees back to work when the lockdown is lifted.
Business grants have helped stave off closures for many of our businesses but that is survival money and businesses need more than survival when faced with overheads and wage bills, business rates and VAT charges if they are going to make it. This is why the Chancellor must support councils to help ease these businesses back into work without hefty rates bills.
I’ve spoken with hospitalities, leisure operators, creatives, retailers, service providers, private transporters, traders and those without a base unit and many others who have all dipped out on an unlevel playing field of business grants. The Independent business owners need much more than the government have provided for them so far.
Many self-employed have suffered immeasurably not only just to keep their businesses afloat but to keep a roof over their heads. Many already top up with Universal Credit. Some have taken out huge loans to keep their hopes and dreams alive because they weren’t afforded the same grants as other businesses.
And many business owners, workers and full time employees were already borderline and required Universal Credit to survive. Many are working families on benefits to make ends meet. That’s working families on benefits. That’s just not right and needs to change.
Some of our residents did manage to find a second job as key workers to ensure they have an income and to support their community, but there are only a limited amount of job opportunities when everywhere is in a lockdown. Currently, we have almost 12,000 residents in this borough desperate to get back to work and longing for the end to restrictions. That’s 12,000 out of work or furloughed.
While we know our residents and businesses have been hammered, you may have read in the paper or on social media that we are doing fine. We are inundated with posters claiming funding is being poured into Redcar & Cleveland from the government. That they are “levelling up”. And yet here we are being hit with a second council tax increase in two years and have a social care shortfall of £4.5m. We also have the lowest reserves in the North East. So, where is the levelling up that means our authority is being funded correctly. This of all years would have been the time for the Tories to stamp their colours to the mast, so the residents in this deprived borough were not burdened with more costs?
We were assured at the beginning of 2020 that the cyber attack, we endured, which would easily cover the council tax with change, would be covered by the government. That was over a year ago and still we wait. Where is our Conservative MP on that? Today we are setting out a council tax rise, to be inflicted on our residents, still wondering if the treasury will make good that promise while our MP, who tells us he is great mates with the Chancellor, is in Westminster championing, tax havens for big business, the importance of cycling in North Yorkshire and Parmos.
If the situation in this borough wasn’t so dire it might be amusing.
This is and has always been a deprived borough. We have never been affluent or comfortable and after ten years of a Conservative government, after being stripped of £100million in funding at the cost of cuts to services and the loss of over a 1000 staff- now with our “Levelling up” MP in place, nothing has changed for the residents. Nothing has changed that brings confidence that this authority will receive adequate funding to help businesses, residents and children out of poverty.
Instead, we have a Tory government who have unlawfully awarded their mates contracts, many on failed PPE, up to the tune of £2 billion and they expect the nation now to fork out £2 billion to pay for it. It beggar’s belief.
You would be forgiven for believing you are better off if you listened to the hype from the Tory PR machine on “Levelling Up”. We might all be better off if millions of pounds, wasn’t shovelled into misleading media messaging. One of these posters claimed,
“£5,410,000 in extra budget spending, for Redcar & Cleveland.“
Now to the average person that appears to mean the Conservatives are sending us this funding. But we know where they get that from. And it’s not from the Treasury. It is raised here, today, through this council tax rise. Our money, taken and used in propaganda back to us as if it’s a gift from the Tories. That’s perverse. On top of that it’s false anyway because we couldn’t hope to raise £5.4m unless we raised council tax today by 8.3% as well as the 2% precept.
Redcar & Cleveland’s administration should have been holding the government to account, digging in for these funds, and fighting for our fair share. Instead, the Tories are courted by a bedazzled Independent administration who have left their principles at the electoral podium.
Overseen by the council leader who couldn’t bear to impose council tax rises on her struggling residents when in opposition. She seems to have forgotten the stories of her community not coping year on year. A leader who amongst other things has approved the purchase and demolition of a chapel in Loftus at almost £700,000 (Which equates to over 1% of council tax in itself).
Suspending unnecessary capital spends would have helped cover the council tax bill. What is so important that couldn’t wait until next year? As I say this a year like no other we should have frozen council tax and worked together to call on the government to “Level Up”.
Madam mayor I’ll wrap up,
I cannot in good faith vote for this budget,
- When the council are expecting cyber attack money from the government that will go straight into reserves, when we receive it;
- When no thought was given to our residents when mapping out a capital programme during a pandemic that could be frozen until the next financial year;
- When we have a Tory government bleating on about levelling us up but doing nothing to honour that and a Conservative MP who lords over desperate people by handing out food parcels but then votes against those very same people in Westminster;
- And when our Independent administration here in Redcar & Cleveland waste money remodelling their group so they have two leaders;
are content to let the government get away with underfunding this borough;
who claimed to have gained us funding support when it was already provided by the government 3 weeks before the letter was even sent
and who say one thing in opposition and the exact opposite once they’re in power.
I vote with the people and the majority of the people in the consultation survey and will not support a council tax hike during a pandemic.