Adur, West & East Worthing Party including East Arun

Worthing Lib Dem Budget Speech & Amendment by Cllr Alan Rice (Feb 18th 2014)

This being a time of austerity I read recently a book about a former time of austerity – between the two world wars.  In “The Road to Wigan Pier” George Orwell  describes the terrible housing conditions and the impossibility for many to provide decent food on the table in northern towns.  I hope and trust we shall never return to those dire conditions but for many today the impossibility in getting a place to live and the daily struggle in providing enough food has returned.

The Trussell Trust which runs food banks estimates there are 13 million people in Britain today living below the poverty line and almost 400 food banks have been launched.  The trust’s goal is to have a food bank in every town – not a goal I thought I would see in the 21st century. We had so much hope in the sixties things were changed for good but that was before Mrs Thatcher’s Britain, the loosening of the reins on the banks and the greed is good mentality.

As a Council I believe we should put our efforts into helping those most affected by the current austerity – those without housing, those without food, those without means to get around and those that are lonely.  It is not just citizens of northern towns now that are suffering.  Worthing has had an ‘official’ food bank for at least three years and I know there is underground help to those too ashamed to go through the official channels.  Thankfully there are still those who are willing to come forward to the aid of their neighbours.

George Orwell didn’t only write factual books about austerity but turned his hand to more light-hearted treatment of his current world political scene and the possible future one.  In 1984 he renames Britain as Airstrip One – with Worthing’s Tories’ fixation on car parks perhaps we should rename Worthing  Car Park One.

Which brings me to the budget and last year’s performance by the administration.  As usual we have heard from the Leader how wonderful it has been  (I wrote this before he spoke – I have a phenomenal power  of prediction).

In 1984 the anti-hero Winston Smith is employed at the Ministry of Truth to correct the historical record to support the current party line.  In Orwell’s future world there is the concept of Doublethink in which the keyword is blackwhite.  For a party member it means a loyal willingness to say black is white when Party discipline demands it.

Let’s remember blackwhite when we look at tonight’s proposed budget for 2014-15:

Theatres – remember the Leader in the Herald bemoaning the fact they were losing £3,000 per day and something must be done about it.  Well in the budget  for 2014-15 they are planned to cost £1,191,390 which I make £3,264.08 a day.

Splashpoint & Fit 4 – Cllr Roberts’ jewels in the crown.  In 2014-15 they are budgeted to cost £1,164,780 or £3,191.18 a day.   Just slightly less than the theatres.

And how about Car Park One which has been apparently so ruinous for the last ten years – car parks had a surplus  in 2013-14 of £945,560 on top of the millions from the previous nine years or a contribution of  £2,590.58 a day.  Car parks are budgeted in 2014-15 to achieve exactly the same result although they have been brought in house – what happened to NCP’s profit?   And that’s before taking into account the April experiment of reducing charges.

Maybe the record needs a bit more doublethink.

Over the years as Leader, the Lib Dems tried each budget to ease the burden of the more vulnerable in  our town.   Last year we proposed money for new housing and were led to believe this would be looked at seriously by the then Cabinet Member for Resources but now accept that has become part of the historical rewrite.  Previously we proposed money for improving buses but that didn’t fit with Car Park One.  We even proposed reducing the Council Tax which we thought must be close to the Tories’ hearts but that too fell on deaf ears.

This time we are proposing something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.  

Something old which we tried before – in every Worthing ward except four (Salvington, Northbrook, Marine & Offington) over 20% of households do not own a car. In Central (Cllr Roberts’ ward) over 45% do not own a car, in Heene it’s over 40%.  Buses are important to those with a less disposable income – especially the elderly.  Specifically one route in particular has come in recently for criticism – the no 7 which runs from High Salvington, through Tarring, the town centre, Broadwater to Lancing.  It connects those  town centre wards of low car ownership to Lyons Farm and Sainsburys.  The frequency is just one an hour – the frequency used to be every half hour. Lack of buses is causing bus rage among the elderly with shopping trolleys and young parents with pushchairs fighting for space. To increase the frequency we need another bus – Stagecoach estimates a cost of £100,000 a year.  Less than the £118,000 reserved for the three month low car park charge experiment.  We propose £100,000 is released from reserves to aid those without a car – especially those trapped and lonely. Loneliness is a bigger killer than obesity.

Something new – in June last year Mr Hedley a Citizens Advice Bureau volunteer addressed the Joint Strategic Committee on the adverse consequences of the ‘bedroom tax’ and discretionary housing payments.  The government gave a grant to Worthing of £160,257 to award to those in need of assistance with additional housing costs and authorised Worthing to assist up to a figure of £400,643. Mr Hedley pleaded with the Cabinet to meet the difference of £240,386 to help those most vulnerable.  The Cabinet rejected the plea saying it could not be afforded.  We think it can and must be met from reserves and hence our second proposal.

Something borrowed – as I said the no 7 bus crosses into Adur.  We should ask Cllr Parkin and his colleagues for a contribution. 

And the blue?  – It’s from our old friend Tory blue Eric Pickles.  As we have said time and time before Mr Pickles expects Councils to use reserves in excess of 5% of the annual revenue spend for the benefit of their residents.

Well although we believe the ear-marking of some of our reserves would invite scrutiny from Mr Pickles we shall concentrate just on the General Working Fund Balance of £1,142,000 – 8% of net revenue spend at 31st March 2014.  So we have in Mr Pickles’ eyes 3% spare capacity or £713,750 – plenty enough for our amendment.

We thus propose the following amendment:

To add to clauses between (a) and (b) – re-lettering (b) to (d) :

(b) to release £240,386 from reserves to bring the total amount available for discretionary housing payments to the Government limit of £400,643

(c) to release £100,000 to facilitate the restoring of the Stagecoach no. 7 bus route to a half-hourly service

Rest assured we hope the reduction of car park charges has the desired effect and encourages greater use.  We do urge Worthing’s residents and visitors to ‘use it or lose it’ but we also hope our amendments meet with Council’s approval to support Worthing’s more vulnerable and less mobile residents.

And one further thought from George Orwell in view on the housing decision to require two years residence or employment in Worthing .  This time from the end of ‘Animal Farm’ – to paraphrase:

The Lib Dems outside looked from the Conservatives to UKIP, and from UKIP to the Conservatives again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Alan Rice