Lib Dems pay lowest Council Tax increase for over a decade!

February 23, 2007 10:48 AM

The Lib Dems have now proposed the LOWEST Council Tax increase for over a decade - Here is a copy of Council Leader - Alan Taylor's Speech from the Budget Council Meeting.

Leader's speech

I am delighted to be able to start tonight by telling you that the Council has been independently assessed as being a three star council by the Audit Commission - and that we are now classed as improving well.

This is a significant achievement for the Council and it means that there is a clear external acknowledgement that our services are improving and, more importantly, that we have demonstrated that we are committed to improving the quality of life for the people of the Borough.

As a Council, we are aiming for excellence and getting three stars out of a possible four is a reflection of the hard work and effort put in by council officers. I'm sure you will join me in thanking all of our staff for their dedication and commitment to success. Without them, this improvement would not have been possible.

I would also like to thank my political colleagues and members from all political parties. Getting three stars has been a culmination of hard work and effort over a period of time and all members have had a role to play in this.

People become councillors for a variety of reasons and the main one is usually to make a difference. I truly believe that by working together we can achieve great things and this is just one example of how as members, officers and partners we have been able to do this. Getting three stars is not a box ticking exercise - it is about achieving real results for local people - something we all have an interest in.

Partnership working is just one of the areas where we have made progress.

The Audit Commission has also recognised our efforts in:

Devolving more powers to townships

Achieving substantial improvements in education, with key stage 2 results being the most improved nationally between 2003 and 2006

Improving the quality of housing in the Borough

Improving our recycling rates

And the impact that regeneration has in benefiting local people through creating jobs and improving skills.

These are just some of our successes.

I am proud to lead a Council that is now three star rated and improving well. It's a good start, but we are not complacent and realise that more needs to be done.

People in the Borough deserve excellence and it is up to us to deliver it.

The Council - and the Borough are going through an ambitious period of change and we have a real opportunity to make a significant difference to people's lives. We are improving the way we plan and manage our services to deliver better outcomes for local people - and we are working closely with our partners to make sure that the vision of a safe, prosperous, healthy and clean Borough becomes a reality.

Once again I want to thank everyone for their efforts in making the achievement of three stars possible. We now need to look to the future - and work together to make sure that we build on this success.

A strong, customer faced Council, that shows it listens to local residents, is one way we can achieve our ultimate aim. A Council with strong political leadership is how we can achieve this aim. Actually strengthening portfolios has already made a real difference to our rating. The ongoing, ambitious work programme, I think, will ensure we are amongst the top rated Councils in the country. Some people say to me why? Why these targets? Well, success will give us more in resources, a bigger say in how we spend our money, and more flexibility to deliver Rochdale's priorities.

And now to this evening. May I first of all, thank Margaret Carney and all the officers involved in producing these budget documents, and their assistance to us in producing this budget. I am sure that both the Labour and Conservative Groups feel they have also received the same professional, impartial assistance.

Can I also place on record my appreciation the work done by Councillor William Hobhouse, our Cabinet Member for Finance, who has been working on this budget since the day we began running the Council back in May.

This is an historic budget, a forward thinking Liberal Democrat Budget. We have pledged to keep Council Tax bills as low as possible, and to provide residents with the best value for money. This Liberal Democrat administration will never waver from the need to provide the best possible services for the best value for money. Where poor value is identified, we will reduce budgets, and expect the Services to deliver the same or better services to a lower budget. Our budget proposes the lowest Council Tax increase for over a decade, but we are still improving services and have many new initiatives and many areas of extra investment.

We have given an unprecedented commitment to the overall funding of the voluntary sector for the next three years. New Groups are being funded for the first time. We are introducing a fairer scheme of Grant funding. We know that scheme isn't perfect, but everyone knows we are looking at it. Many Groups are getting an increase on last year. We will further develop the commissioning of Council services for the Voluntary Sector. We are determined to increase funding to the Voluntary Sector overall, and to be in a position by September for every Group to know their likely funding for 2008/09. The Voluntary Sector know we are listening to them, and I think I've got their trust. The Voluntary Sector are in partnership with us and we value them.

We are starting a three-year programme to give older people more independence in their lives, and, where possible, to tailor care towards reducing dependency. We strongly believe that older people want to stay independent for as long as possible. We will introduce this change for new cases only, and to try to tailor our care so that many older people become independent or less dependent after a few months.

Some of the many areas of extra investment are

Investment in technology with our partners in the Impact Partnership is the key element in the modernisation of the Council.

Rochdale Town Centre. We have the first major commitment of Council money to kickstart the Rochdale Town Centre redevelopment. This involves the Council putting in pump priming money in order to bring in about £100million of outside investment. Much of this pump priming money is spent on highly professional outside consultants. Without using consultants, there would be no ambitious Rochdale Town Centre redevelopment.

Gateways to the Borough. First impressions for visitors and investors are important. You only get one chance, and I am sure that the people of the Borough will welcome this action.

The Handy Person's Scheme has been given £100,000 to keep this scheme in operation, which is one of the most popular things that this Council provides.

An extra £200,000 for disabled adaptations and equipment, to clear a backlog of approvals.

An extra £350.000 for Community Safety in respect of Alley Gating, and CCTV initiatives.

Improvement to information and Libraries. An allocation for enhancing the book stock, and to make improvements to customer service points.

Over £7million to improve the physical structure of our schools.

Schemes totalling over £800,000 to support the delivery of extended childcare provision in children's centres and schools,

All this investment despite the cost of the equal pay settlement, estimated at £10million to £11million, which has reduced our capital programme by £3million for next year and has greatly restricted the financial flexibility of the Council.

Our new initiatives include an extra quarter of a million pounds to the Youth Service to enable the Service to create a team to reach more young people, in particular those who are vulnerable and at risk and who need an outreach service to engage them.

Establish an external funding Co-ordinator post to explore further 'funny money' opportunities on behalf of the Council. Rochdale does not have a dedicated staff to co-ordinate its efforts for external funding. The consequence is that despite examples of good work by individual services, the Council fails to maximise the opportunities that exist to bring in resources for itself and its partners - particularly those in the voluntary and community sectors. An external funding Co-ordinator would help the Council to improve in this area.

Improve how we market the Borough and develop a full marketing strategy to help bring more investment and jobs to the Borough. At present, with the exception of a small budget for tourism, no budget exists to promote the Borough. This issue is becoming pressing in the context of an increasingly competitive market for regional regeneration funding. It is very important that when we attempt to market the Borough, we do so using the very highest quality materials that we can afford. We need to use the new Media extensively and we need to exhibit at events where the investors that we need to influence attend.

A People's Champion to improve the frontline customer access points, and to improve the Council's complaints and appeals systems. The People's Champion will make sure that local residents get the best out of Council services. This new Department will champion resident's complaints against the Council and make sure these complaints are fully answered and corrected. We expect a Council culture that admits to wrongs immediately with no excuses.

Establishment of a Green Team to enhance key environmental services. Liberal Democrats expect the Council to lead by example. The Green team will bring together under one roof, officers who already work on environmental and sustainability issues in separate departments. The Green team will formulate and help to implement a clear coherent strategy for a green Borough.

Funding to invest in our workforce to achieve excellent services. We need staff with a 'can do' attitude to delivering services to our customers. We need to retain and promote. We need the right skills in the right place at the right time. This Council can only be as good as the people who work for it.

And finally, Townships. This is the biggest change made for many years in the way our Council works, and I am proud that we have made this happen. We have devolved as much decision making and as much control over financial resources as we can. We are now doubling the discretionary budget available to Townships from £1 per head of population to £2 per head of population, an increase which brings this budget to £420,000.

Can I thank all my Cabinet colleagues for the hard work and dedication they have shown since we have started running the Council last May. We have had help in this from the Local Government Leadership Centre. We felt we hit the ground running, and the challenge was to sustain and enhance the momentum of change that we wished to see. The initial report to the Leadership Centre said "The Cabinet needs to rapidly become effective if Rochdale is to change its historical character of Members not setting direction and lacking organisational pace and direction. The Council has a positive direction. This process needs to be about equipping the Cabinet to deliver on that."

That process is working.

I believe we have the makings of the strongest Cabinet this Council's ever known. We have struck up an excellent working relationship with the officers of this Council…………

I see the Labour/Conservative coalition is indulging itself in the luxury of opposition with what they see as headline grabbing alterations to a carefully thought out budget. Only last December, they were telling us that we were irresponsible for setting the Council Tax increase at only 3.9%. They said as one it should be 4.9%. Now, suddenly 3.9% is too much. Can we really believe these people.

This is the lowest Council tax rise for over a decade and yet we are still improving services,

and finally to our Council Tax payers, I say:

So long as there is a Liberal Democrat Council in the Borough, you can be assured that we will always aim to run this Council efficiently. We will never forget that it is your money we are spending, and we have a duty to spend it carefully.

Madam Mayor, I am proud to move this budget.