As reported two weeks ago, last night Labour easily carried a vote to increase your council tax bill from 1st April.
The Labour Administration at Ipswich Borough Council used their massive majority to increase the borough’s part of the bill by 1.98% claiming the Coalition Government are “taking an axe” to the council’s funding. In fact, the Government had continued their scheme to offer a grant to pay for a council tax freeze – but Labour turned it down.
Council leader Councillor David Ellesmere introduced the borough’s budget for the next financial year telling the chamber his party were forced to ask hard-pressed taxpayers to cough up more money – for no new or improved services – because of the “gathering economic gloom” and as a result of Westminster treating local government as the “whipping boys again”.
In fact, the reason Cllr Ellsemere gave for needing the extra money was to meet Labour’s ideological goals. He will use the extra money from you to build new council houses and to increase pay for council staff, many who find it very difficult to hide their sympathies for the Labour Party. Gordon Brown’s client state is very much alive and kicking in the People’s Socialist Republic of Ipswich.
The Labour council leader foolishly tried to claim credit for the economic development which has taken place in the town over the last two years. This prompted former Conservative council leader Councillor Liz Harsant to respond with a tour de force of political rebuttals.
The former Council leader tore apart Labour’s statements in the budget report where they claimed credit for Little Waitrose setting up shop in the Corn Exchange, despite opposing the planning application. Cllr Harsant pointed out there was no mention of the transformed Giles Circus in the report, which she was not surprised about as this expanded pedestrianised area using high-quality materials was driven through to completion by former Tory Transport portfolio holder, Tanya Maclure, against fierce opposition from the Labour group at the time. Little Waitrose sits on the corner of Giles Circus and undoubtedly the revamped area attracted this major retailer to the town centre.
Cllr Harsant went on remind the meeting what Conservative Cllr John Carnall said last month about Labour being against £70 Million of investment into Ipswich by Tesco through their development on Grafton Way. The new ruling Labour administration made their reluctance to take Tesco’s money so abundantly clear, the supermarket giant reduced their inward investment to £50 Million. Cllr Harsant echoed Cllr Carnall by saying Labour managed to lose £20 Million “in one fell swoop!”.
Labour were floored by Cllr Harsant by daring to suggest they attracted John Lewis Partnerships to open a John Lewis At Home store and Waitrose supermarket on the former Cranes site off Nacton Road. She reminded the Council this was achieved through the hard work of her former Administration, in particular the Economic Development portfolio holder at the time, Councillor Richard Atkins.
And the punches kept raining down: “The £6.6 Million flood defences weren’t achieved by your Party, they were secured as a result of lobbying by Ipswich MP Ben Gummer”. “The Regent was turned into one of the most successful publicly owned theatres in the region by the former Culture chief, Tory councillor Judy Terry”. “And the reason you can build council houses, is because of changes to the law made by the Tory-led Coalition Government!”.
Cllr Harsant rammed home her points: “Labour left this country bankrupt. This year they will rise council tax by 2%, next year they will raise it by 2%, the year after by 2% on so on. I shall not be voting for this budget!”
This was undoubtedly the best speech of the evening and quite possibly Cllr Harsant’s best speech of her political career.
The soaring rhetoric was a needed boost to a flagging Conservative Group. Unfortunately, there was no alternative budget offered up from new Tory Group leader Cllr Chris Stewart. Firstly, let’s not forget Labour never put up an alternative budget in the seven years they were in opposition, displaying arrogance encapsulated by one Labour councillor who said the Tories “were just keeping our seats warm”.
But Cllr Stewart should have been better prepared for this budget as Labour announced in a press release on 12th February they would be increasing our bills by 2%. However, the Conservative group leader did not present an amendment to officers until 21st February, hours before the cut-off at noon on Friday 22nd February.
Sources tell Gavin Maclure’s Musings, the civil servants at Grafton House, for some reason, didn’t get round to viewing the Tory amendment. To compound matters, it has been alleged the S151 officer (the legally required local authority civil servant responsible for proper administration of the council’s financial affairs) was off sick and the council had not made any provision to cover his role. This is potentially illegal under the Local Government Act 1972.
The upshot is the Conservatives did not get an approval for their alternative budget prior to the deadline and the start of the council papers print run. This gave plenty of ammunition to the Labour group with Cllr David Ellesmere branding the Tories “financially illiterate” and leaving the Conservative Group somewhat embarrassed they had not put aside enough time to navigate the civil service machine. I am sure lessons have been learnt.
Let’s just hope Ipswich residents learn quickly why their council tax is going up this year. Not because of Tory-run Suffolk County Council, who have frozen their precept and not because of the Police & Crime Commission, whose new Commissioner, Conservative Tim Passmore, has ensured their budget stays the same. The reason more of your income – in the worst economic climate since the 1930s – will be spent on government is because Labour now run Ipswich Borough Council again. Get used to it. Until they leave office, it will go up every year, guaranteed.