Friday, 30 November 2012

Plan for Change needed

Do you believe you are getting value for money?

The debate over the Pickles Poll Tax and the rise in Medway Council Tax by 2% has only just started but it clear the dividing lines on next years budget are being set.

As the bulldozers dig near the Chatham bus station - the very symbol of Tory fiscal incompetence and mismanagement - the Conservative machine here is beginning the pre-Christmas chugging out of bad news. 

The line the Tories will be under will be to manage the bad news; so publishing a news item on Sure Start cuts as Leveson was talking is one such example. Another to claim that Medway is suffering because of an unavoidable byproduct of a government is a common line too. 

The problem is whilst some of the blame is the Conservative government - for which the same Councillor's leaflet and campaign for lets not forget - its a distortion to claim their is no responsibility locally for the situation we have ended up and more importantly, for which Council Tax payers, are forking out even more; such as the local Chatham bus station project.

Our Conservative Councillors are advocates, cheerleaders and campaigners for this government so let them not claim, piously, they do not stand full square behind everything this government has done. They are culpable for the actions on our services.

The truth is whether locally or nationally people are waking up. They can now see a truly ruthless Conservative machine in Whitehall undermining our civic fabric; they can see senior Tories pledging to bulldoze and now actively consult upon a Peninula proposal for an airport; they can see the botched Chatham road system and bus station; they can see the pot-holed roads in Walderslade or Rainham, the cuts to Care Homes in Rochester, the overspends on school capital projects in Gillingham and the gerrymandering of road budgets from Strood to leafier suburban streets nowhere near you. They can see good, and long standing charities closing and suffering from funding cuts, leading to loss of income; they can see the concerns of young people priced out of education and parents who are priced out of paying for their children on public transport.

Only in the last fortnight we have had Age Concern closing, Medway CAB threatening to cut staff, Sure Start budgets slashed, train fares up and road budgets butchered. Meanwhile, when it comes to fiscal prudence we have Tories popping up on TV claiming credibility; this from the same mob who have just spent £100m on a Police Commissioner election process which was a comedy, no a tragedy, of errors were it not for the tasteless waste of public money.

And it is not even if Medway gets a good deal in the region; the line that 'we are all in this together' is rubbish. When it comes to just local Council services we are simply not. The Tories, supported by their MPs, have voted to hurt places like Medway more then in Surrey and elsewhere.

Medway is loosing £56 per person in government cuts already compared to £34 in David Cameron's constituency. Leafier Tory areas are suffering less as the below graphic illustrates

All in this together?

The truth is, week by week, people can see through the fog of deceit; the threats to Medway Sure Start are now very real (see below). Services are not better for less; they are simply less. Council Tax is rising without any real consultation, and people feel angry and left out of conversations over Care Home cuts and privatisation. When we have a Council Tax consultation on SurveyMonkey you know times are tough; but how many times does a over-centralised Council cabinet have to be told to listen before you realise that incontinence is in the very bowls of the Tory machine itself.

Sure Start cut? Or just another 'unexpected reduction in government grant'?

There is something rotten about this Conservative administration in that when everyone else knows its a cut they will simply try and hoodwink the truth on the impact to the frontline. 

People dont mind paying Council Tax if they know it is going to be spent wisely but our Conservatives have a woeful record when it comes to managing the public purse locally; many reading dont have enough hands, fingers and toes to go over the incompetent overspends and copious budgetary omnishambles. And, yes, the farcical pointing of blame that happens afterwards where no one who has ever worn a blue rosette is ever to blame. 

  • How many more years of failure to improve Primary Schools will it take for new and capable political leadership to take over afresh?
  • How many more empty shops in our highstreets and fake shop fronts?
  • How many more times will Chatham bus station be in the paper?
  • How many more CCTV car pictures being parked on double-yellow lines before we review the cars?
  • How many more charities will get budgets cut?
  • How many more schools will be in the bottom ten of GCSE league tables?
  • How many more officer changes?

We know this Council is being badly led, its poor and tired leadership. We are in desperate need of new blood.

Next April, the imposition of the 'Pickles Poll Tax' will mean thousands of our poorest residents wont just have to pay an extra 2% but could be an extra 25-30%. 

Take away the loaded argument about divide-and-rule which is how the right blame the bottom; but give tax breaks to the millionaires; and just look at the reality. Taxing those with no money is not likely to work especially when we have a poor record from collecting tax from those that do.

Medway is already amongst the poorest collectors of Council Tax in South Eastern England; and thats before the targeting of those on lowest incomes. A position incidentally some of our MPs know about all to well.

Medway Council according to the report has, at the time of this article to the left, some £6m outstanding council tax which serves to highlight the total incomptence of the current Conservative administration.  

At the next Council I will be asking to see by how much this figure has decreased; and given the incapability over previous years I dont expect will by much. 

Why should anyone have to pay an extra 2% or 25% (for the most vulnerable) when we dont have the capability to collect tax currently? This is a legitimate question people need answering.

At the Audit Committee over the Summer I challenged the Council Officer over the IT systems that the Council was using for Council Tax collection and the allegation of 'paper piles'. The IT system was not up to scratch; if we are to start to collect more from particular sub-sections this must be rectified. I will be challenging this as well.

People in Medway expect responsibility from their elected politicians but also capable scrutiny; I am very concerned that the rises in Council Tax next year will sting the vulnerable and will not have widespread consent from the public.

If you are tired of this administration you can be the change 

Medway Labour - under the leadership of Cllr Vince Maple - is changing. A new and dynamic leadership is reaching out and listening to residents. Over the next 12 months our Plan for Medway will start to take shape through active consultation with small business, care workers, teachers and those that commute on train and bus.  Our first open event was held on Thursday night where some serious proposals were discussed to improve adult services; and how we would differ from the current administration

A genuine change is around the corner; Medway can get moving again but that requires new leadership in 2015 and it is Labour that is gearing up to be that change; help by joining us to stop this corrosive incompetence.

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