Thursday, 13 December 2012

Bottom of the table

And today who did the Medway Conservatives volunteer to meet the BBC News; the poor Officer who only started in late 2012 and who had nothing to do with the results in question.

Councillor Les Wicks should have had the decency to go onto camera and at least try and give a credible response as to how Medway is going to improve. Instead he is nowhere to be seen.

His report card is below and for most it does not read well:

The Medway Conservative Council is backed by Conservative MPs; many of those Councillor's who are canvassing and campaigning for our local MPs are the same people dropping the ball on local education. They are simply not the solution and the area needs a Labour Council that will focus on leadership and on our failing schools.

For a fascinating and analytical piece on the Key Stage 2 performance in Medway I can recommend the excellent piece by Peter Read on the 'Shocking KS2 results.' Peter is seen as an independent expert on education in Kent and Medway and is trusted by thousands of parents.

Medway MPs have promised to take up the case; lets see whether we see any significant improvements over the next 12 months.

Education of our young people matters so much which is why we need new political leadership.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Council E-Petition Flop

We all know that local Conservatives ignore local democracy; we have had Council meetings slashed, an overly centralised Cabinet system and a total lack of consultation on a multitude of Council projects and schemes.

It does not come as a surprise therefore that whilst there are currently 52.7m internet users in Britain, representing some 84.1% of the population that our flagship e-petition scheme has been a total flop. 

We have had only seven e-petitions since 2010 and to make matters worse we had one that only secured 1 signature.

Who is responsible for Democracy in Medway; one leader Cllr Rodney Chambers.

Not fit for purpose? Lets see if we change the platform.

Smokes and Mirrors

Part of my real hatred about scrutinising the Tory Capital and Revenue Budgets is the smoke and mirrors in reporting on overspends on original budget estimates.

Officers have got into an unfortunate habit of reporting overspends against increased budgets as opposed to original estimated costs given to the public. 

You may be confused 

Below are two examples of financial mismanagement which the public may indeed be aware of over the last 0-10 years

Walderslade School: If you look above the budget estimate it stands at £5.51m and to the casual observer it effectively hit this budget target with an 'ambivalent face'. What is never disclosed is the original budget estimate for this project was £3.2m. This project therefore went over original budget estimate by £2.3m but because at some point during the project we voted for an increase it is all ok. Is this really scrutiny? Not a smiley face

Strood Civic Centre: If you look at the above the budget estimate is £800,000 and it received a very 'smiley face'. What is never disclosed is the original budget estimate for this project was £700,000 . Not a smiley face

And lets not start on the biggest example of this which is the Chatham Bus station which went from £5m to £7.3m and still costs are ongoing 

The Council - for whatever reason - never reports the original budget estimate. Instead the Tory-led Council goes over budget, votes itself a budget increase on said programme (usually out of Council Tax or reserves) and then scrutinises itself against this raised budget. It then reviews these budget within the context of the said incompetence and awards itself a happy face.

It is utterly infuriating and dishonest politics.

Last week I challenged this type of smoke and mirrors at the Business Overview & Scrutiny Meeting but to no avail.

I wonder why!

£60m debt legacy

Last Thursday it was revealed the true extent of Medway Tory mismanagement of the Council budgets which already highlight a prospective £60m liability on the books up until 2015.

On the above the Medway Conservatives will leave a budget deficit of £23.5m in 2015/16 and a cumulative loss over the next 3 years of £60m.

This is simply a staggering amount of money and comes as a direct result of Conservatives gerrymandering our money to leafier Tory areas in Surrey and elsewhere.

And what makes matters worse for taxpayers is that this prediction includes 2% per year average Council Tax increase. The days of Council Tax freezes are over.

Our Medway MPs must be aware of this black hole in the Council books but have failed to lobby for a fair local government settlement.

If Medway Labour win in 2015 the finances will be in a total mess because of the Tories. 

This is the message to all those who want to make a difference; our Tories may be about to follow a 'scorched Council' policy which will leave residents and the next administration with some very unpalatable choices

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Osborne needs an agenda for growth

So with icy winds and snow you could be forgiven for thinking today is all about missing the obvious slip ups, but not so. Today we get a verdict on the core strategy of this government which has it reduced the deficit and to deliver on its own five year plan.

Does George Osborne have the grit to get us through or is he spreading himself to thin and exposing himself to the bitter winds of austerity?

In 2010, the General Election was fought over the economy and the public showed they wanted a Coalition. Labour warned at the time that if the Tories were elected their policies would take us back into a double-dip. After the election, the Summer Budget showed the bitter truth to the folly, that they wanted a pacey five year deficit reduction cycle and punchy upfront cuts to get there. 

Osborne and Cameron staked their political credibility on this economic prospectus and today the public get to see it was based on a totally false premise; that at a time of global downturn that the private sector could solely pick up the slack and that budgets for school buildings and other key services could just be brutally slashed without impact. That by standing up for millionaires that trickle down economics on its own would work. That by undermining rights in the workplace and making jobs more insecure this would lead to economic empowerment.

Let is go back to that first budget and CSR; Osborne cut the building schools for the future budget which today he will re-announce. Osborne predicted the deficit would be slashed but yet debt is ballooning to unparalled highs. Osborne said we should hold his judgement to account on spending; yet he is still in post after calling it totally wrong; a double-dip caused by Downing Street but which is felt on your street.

The public has no confidence in the economic credibility of the current government

On recent polls Labour is ahead or outpolling on economic credibility despite it being only four years since the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s; the difference to then is that whilst other countries have rejected austerity (like the US and Northern Europe) ours has endorsed a different right wing approach. 

The result is clear; those who invested and planned for growth recovered quicker, those that followed austerity have failed.  

And the reality on the ground is stark; David Cameron and George Osborne’s economic policies are not working: 

Failing on jobs, growth and the deficit: Prices are rising faster than wages, our economy has flatlined for two years and long term unemployment is soaring. This is causing long-term damage to the economy. And because the benefits bill is up and tax revenues are down as a result of this economic failure, borrowing is rising so far this year – meaning the government is failing on the one test they set themselves. Raising taxes and cutting spending too far and too fast has backfired. 

Long-term plan for our economy: Banking reforms are being watered down, they’ve failed to deliver on infrastructure investment to strengthen our economy for the future and business is rapidly losing confidence in the government’s ability to make long-term decisions. 

Standing up for the wrong people: The price of this government’s economic failure is being paid for not by the Carlton Club or Cecil Club elites but by people on middle and low incomes who are being asked to pay more, while millionaires get a tax cut – worth an average of £107,000 for 8,000 people earning over £1 million. 

What Labour have consistently said is we need an economy that grows, where everybody has a stake and where the rewards are fairly shared. 

So these are the tests for today's autumn statement:

We need a plan to create jobs and growth, which are vital to get the deficit down and catch up all the lost ground of the last two years. Labour's five point plan includes using the funds from the 4G auction to build 100,000 affordable homes, bringing forward infrastructure investment, a temporary VAT cut and a bank bonus tax to fund a jobs guarantee for young people.

We need long-term reforms to strengthen our economy and ensure that other countries do not continue to race ahead of us. This should include a British Investment Bank properly backed by the Treasury to boost lending to small and medium sized businesses, a long term plan to rebuild our infrastructure and radical reforms to separate retail and investment banking. 

We need fair action to help people on low and middle incomes with the rising cost of living. That means cancelling the fuel duty rise in January, at least until next April. And it means rethinking the plan to give a tax cut to millionaires on the same day that taxes go up for millions of pensioners.

We need to see a change of course from David Cameron and George Osborne, not more of the same. 

Today is a test for our three local MPs - will they stand up for our area or will they continue to back a totally flawed economic prospectus which as all our residents can see, feel and know has not worked.