As Leader of the Conservative opposition for BCP I would appreciate the opportunity to comment on two recent Echo articles both relating to the precarious financial position BCP Council finds itself in as a result of Covid-19 and the differing financial responses reported.
Firstly, as a clarification, the Conservative Group has asked the Council to explore accelerating the planned economies of scale and duplication of back office functions “Transformation Plan” in order to take some responsibility ourselves for delivering a more efficient Council rather than waiting to be bailed out by Government.
Additionally we have asked that consideration be given to maintaining the Town Hall as a civic hub but not to spend £20m – £26m refurbishing the office space behind the Town Hall and instead to buy an existing office building, with much better public transport links, to house the majority of staff for half of the proposed renovation amount. Any sale of assets must be alongside an acquisition strategy that ensures there is a long-term asset base for future generations to benefit from.
Secondly, we read that the Leader of the Councils only response to having a £30m+ hole in the finances is taxation either by higher council tax locally or through further bail out by Government. Whether the money comes from Council Tax or national Government it is still taxpayers money and every attempt to balance the books ourselves first must be considered before we ask the tax payer to bail us out.
The Government have said “spend what you need” and Council’s will be reimbursed, they have never promised to offset lost revenue like parking income and in fact the Council spend on Covid-19 is projected to be c£14.5m and the Government grant to local authorities to date in response is £22m.
The Conservative response has been to table a bold Transformation discussion document that highlights £50m – £60m of savings over three years and would allow the Council to PROTECT ALL SERVICES and indeed to start to discuss priorities for additional spending because it takes bold actions to facilitate the economies of scale that we were promised by Local Government Reorganisation rather than bury our heads in the sand and hope the tax payer bails us out.
Drew Mellor, Conservative Group Leader and
Shadow Portfolio Holder for Transformation.