My budget response speech at Kettering Borough Council last night:
This is the second council budget I’ve had to respond to in the last week and they could not be further apart. The County Council one was ‘weak and fragile’. It depended so much on a leap of faith. On having confidence in it that it didn’t deserve. This budget however is far more robust.
To be fair, it was always likely to be, because the Borough Council does not deal with the expensive and unpredictable demand-led services a County Council does (a warning there perhaps for anyone hoping to make the jump up to Unitary). Apart from homelessness, which led to an overspend this year of the best part of a million pounds, (a huge amount for a council like this) most of the Borough Council’s services simply go on-and-on, year-after-year, with very little outside interference. It’s relatively easy to plan what they will cost, and relatively easy to reduce or increase services at the political whim of the leadership.
So in that respect I don’t have too many worries about the budget’s deliverability. There will be individual budget lines that overspend, but others that will underspend, so unless we get another spike in homelessness or a similar issue that far exceeds the councils worst case forecasting, financially the council should be OK.
But is that enough?
The primary job of any council is to serve its residents. To provide them with the public services they need and require. And I would suggest that this is where this budget falls down.
I described NCC’s budget as ‘weak and fragile’, this budget on the other hand is ‘unimaginative and lacks ambition’. It’s simply designed to keep the organisation going for the next twelve months, and to help HMS KBC to steer a steady course.
Where is the passion? Where is the help the people of Kettering so desperately need on things like those I’ve already spoken about tonight? On the town centre…on homelessness and housing?
Kettering is being left behind by our neighbours. They have better leisure facilities than us (please don’t me started on the council’s fiasco of looking at the viability of a new swimming pool). Look around the country when you visit other places. They have nicer streets and amenities, they have councils that engage with residents and try to adapt to their needs. Here at KBC we do do some great things, but we could do so much more! And that’s what is so disappointing…
The budget setting meeting should be the chance to explain how the finances will support the vision and future plans of the council. This budget does little more than simply show how the council can once more, just about get by, so long as we keep our heads down and don’t rock the boat.
As I said, no passion! It’s a real missed opportunity.