Friday, 2 March 2012

My speech at last night's West Berkshire Council budget debate

The following is my speech in the debate on the Lib-Dem alternative budget proposals at last night's (March 1st) West Berkshire Council budget debate. Needless to say, it was defeated.
Councillor Alan Macro, 2nd March 2012
In line with our budget proposals to protect services to the vulnerable and encourage community cohesion, I want to restore some of the administration’s proposed budget cuts and to restore some services previously cut.
In survey after survey, both adults and young people have said that there is not enough for young people to do in West Berkshire. So what did the council do? They closed all the youth clubs!
A few youth clubs have been re-opened by local councils and volunteers. However many communities have found many obstacles in the way. I am therefore proposing to re-open six youth clubs that will be open to all young people. This, in conjunction with those that have been re-opened by volunteers, parish and town councils will provide youth club services to a wide range of communities. The cost, as provided by youth service officers, will be £36,000. This allows for a three month period to recruit staff, etc.
The West Berkshire Youth Offending Team has a reputation that is one of the best in the country. In this time of recession, when our young people face many challenges, it seems crazy to reduce the size of this team and jeopardise its success. I am therefore proposing to restore the administration’s £21,000 cut to this team.
We have heard much from the party opposite about the “Big Society”. It is also generally accepted that funding of volunteer services is an investment that makes huge returns in terms of outcomes. I welcome the fact that the cut in grants to Mencap, Dingley, Crossroads, PALS and A2 Dominion is now being spread over two years. However it still seems both perverse and petty minded to reduce the grants to these charities, some of which are categorised as “outstanding” by OFSTED. If just one of the children helped by these charities had to go into residential care as a result of this cutback, it could cost the council several times the so-called saving. I am therefore proposing to restore the £25,000 cut.
The council strategy, that has just been approved, says that the council will challenge and support schools to achieve good inspection ratings. The GCSE results in West Berkshire are a little better than the national average. However, the differential is decreasing. Last year they decreased significantly in two of our schools.  In recent years, several schools have been put in Special Measures or “National Challenge” categories. Schools have been given a notice to improve. For these reasons, it is therefore perverse for the council to cut school improvement advisors further. I propose to keep the threatened school advisors at a cost of £185,000.
The government has recently introduced its “troubled families” initiative. It is therefore certainly not the time to reduce expenditure on family support. I am therefore proposing to restore the cuts in Early Family Support and Intensive Family Support at a total cost of £24,000.
I propose to help pay for these proposals by:
-         Replacing one library assistant in each branch library by volunteers, saving £37,500. This allows three months for staff consultation and volunteer recruitment.
-         Introducing a charge for internet use in libraries of £1 per hour, after the first 30 minutes use, bringing in £15,000. It should be noted that some other authorities charge over £4 per hour.
-         Modestly increasing the income requirement for Shaw House by providing value-added services for weddings, bringing in £20,000
-         Reducing the administration costs of Shaw House by £30,000, out of a total staff costs budget of over £255,000.
One saving that I am not proposing to take is the £81,000 budget cost of subsidising school meals. The administration have decided to stop the subsidy, though did not include this saving in their budget. Finances are tight for families, as well as for the council!
I am therefore proposing to save a total £102,500. However, the savings I am proposing will have a minimal effect on front-line services. These savings will help fund the reversing of £291,400 of the administration’s cuts to Children & Young People’s services of, which would have a severe impact on services to vulnerable children and to schools.

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