Budget amendments can provide an excellent way for an opposition party to point out the flaws in how a ruling group is running, and plans to run, a council. They also give us a chance to highlight what we would do differently – how we would change the priorities of a council and invest in particular, defined areas as part of a strategy to improve how the council works and the services that it offers.
We need to be careful with budget amendments though – credibility is key and we must be able to show how we would spend the council’s budget in a responsible way. Below, we highlight a couple of different ways that we can show our suggestions.
One way is to give a simple, visual explanation of what we would do:
As campaigners, we should always be thinking about the ‘story’ of a budget. Is the council cutting a front line service? Are they pushing money into pet projects or have they miscalculated the true cost of a project?
A press release allows us to point out where a council is failing and put across an alternative. It also gives us space to explain our reasoning and set out both short term alternatives and a longer term strategic plan. An example here from Devon Liberal Democrats:
Devon Liberal Democrats
Devon County Council budget amendment
Devon County Council must no longer turn its head to avoid the dreadful impacts on residents of flooding and damage caused by the cuts to Highway drainage services and regular maintenance.
Scrapping the Highway Lengthsmen service and the routine and regular maintenance it provided has proved a folly and a dreadful false economy.
This Liberal Democrat budget amendment proposes:
- Investing an immediate and additional £4.5 million during 2020-21 in our highways to clear drains, improve highway drainage and repaint absent and faded road and junction markings. We will invest £4 million in highways drainage improvements and £500,000 to renew and replace white lines and junction markings, helping to make our roads safer.
- Creating 20mph zones and speed limits around Devon’s schools and other high priority areas with an investment of £400,000 in 2020/21.
- Launching a ‘Green Devon’ scheme to support environmental projects such as bee corridors, wild flower meadows and verges, tree planting and helping local communities deliver their own environmental improvements. We will fund this with a minimum £50,000 by ending the wasteful ‘essential user allowances’ for staff driving less than 1,000 miles year (19 miles a week) on council business.
We will fund the £4.5 million road drainage and safety priorities by:
Drawing on the Council’s £18.1 million Emergency Reserve, set aside to deal with the impact of flooding and other events. This ‘stitch in time’ approach to clear drains and renew road markings is an ‘invest to save’ measure – saving not only on damaging flood costs but also the misery caused to Devon residents and householders.
We will make 20mph zones for schools a priority with an investment of £400,000 in the 2020/21 council year, funded by:
Cutting the budget for consultants and stand-in managers by £200,000 and cutting £200,000 from the media, public relations and advertising budget
We will fund ‘Green Devon’ projects by:
Ending wasteful payments requiring staff to bring cars to work which are then rarely used on council business.
We note that 108 staff this year have been paid, in total, up to £50,000 and none have driven more than 1 mile a week for business use.
The Liberal Democrats believe it is time for a thorough review of all ‘essential’ car use to deliver savings and identify cleaner, greener, cheaper ways to help staff travel, when necessary.
Other financial steps:
Devon County Council to lobby government to end the switch from Council Tax to Business Rates loophole used by some second home owners and to allow local councils the power to charge up to 200% Council Tax on second/holiday homes. Such measures would, it is believed, raise in the region of £10 million for Devon County Council from South Hams alone. Across the county, it is suggested the income could be in excess of £20 million.
We note the people of Devon continue to be short changed by Government:
Loss of £180 million in core funding since 2010
Each Devon school child still underfunded by approx. £294 a year
£45 million deficit by end of March 2021 for Special Educational Needs