This week Kettering Borough Council unanimously agreed to raise their concerns about how the proposed cuts to the County Council’s budget will affect Kettering and local services.
My speech to the Council focused on the issue of the cuts to Trading standards having been approached by local businesses but there are of course many more issues such as cuts to children’s services, road maintenance, bus subsidies, winter gritting and of course the library service.
As most of you will know as well as being a Kettering Borough Councillor I am also a County Councillor and as such have had a front row seat looking at the County Council’s financial problems for a number of years.
It’s probably fair to say that Borough Council members from all sides have had concerns about the County Council for a number of years but up until this year those concerns have been dismissed as irrelevant or as political troublemaking.
That’s now changed. The recent Local Government Associations review into NCC's finances raised a lot of points and highlighted some of the financial mismanagement that has led them to the position they are currently in.
It heightened the problems of the so-called Next Generation council model, that was supposed to cure all their problems by explaining that it wasn’t understood, either by senior officers and members, and nobody knew exactly how it was supposed to lead to the efficient savings and extra income that NCCs cabinet had consistently argued it would bring.
They went on to question whether the councillors in charge had a good enough understanding of finances and that they relied far too heavily on their officers and made the point that year after year the county have had to dip into their dwindling reserves and sell buildings and assets just to balance their budgets.
All this has left us to the current position which really is one of scrapping the barrel. The £9.6m this motion refers to is going to have a massive impact locally and is of course only the tip of the proverbial iceberg with another £27m worth of cuts due to be announced next week.
The motion asks us to agree that their plans will create major challenges for this council and our residents. How can we not?
To just take one element of the first round of cuts. They propose cutting the budget to Trading Standards by a further £600,000 which will reduce the level of officers from 34 to 18 that will mean that Trading Standards budget has been cut by more than half over the last few years and this will have a huge impact locally.
They are already struggling! I’ve been dealing with a local business that was allegedly ripped off by another business and already Trading Standards didn’t have the resources to help them. The advice I was given from the councillor in charge was to advise them to contact the BBC's Rip Off Britain programme!
I heard a County Council Cabinet member at a public meeting in Desborough recently argue that even after next year’s cuts they will still be able to meet their statutory legal requirements.
Not true! A recent report outlined those legal responsibilities which include, rogue trading, age-restricted sales, animal health, product safety, and fair trading. It went on to conclude that the proposed cuts would lead to a “significant reduction in the ability to carry out various statutory enforcement duties” and that the “ability to effectively protect consumers will be significantly diminished” and “legitimate local businesses will face increased unfair trading from those willing to sell illegal products”.
And that’s just one example of how Kettering businesses and residents will be hit.
Am I concerned? Do I agree with the concerns expressed in this motion?
Yes I am and yes I do. I will be supporting this motion and urge all councillors across the chamber to do so.