Councillor Greg Stone on why he's opposing Labour's Council Tax rise

March 4, 2015 10:44 PM
By Greg Stone

The Liberal Democrat vision for Newcastle remains the same as we pursued in office for seven years - a cleaner, green, safer, fairer city which kept council tax below inflation, which prioritised cleaner streets, road and pavement repairs, greater sustainability, genuine devolution to ward level and a focus on improving employability and tackling child poverty. It was a vision guided by quality oflife and value for money - keeping libraries open and introducing a Night Time Noise service.

I would remind Cllr Forbes of the massive gulf between his own vision on taking office and the reality in this city four years later.

Cllr Forbes told us he would freeze council tax: Tonight, that pledge has been abandoned.

Cllr Forbes told us only he could work more effectively with other Labour leaders to deliver for Newcastle .

It only takes a conversation with the leader of Sunderland to see how hollow that claim has become, or a look at Manchester to see how other cities are leaving Newcastle far behind. The powers are now available to cities; Cllr Forbes and NECA have yet to prove they can be trusted with them. We hear talk nationally about the need for greater joint working and shared services; we see precious little of it in Newcastle.

Cllr Forbes told us he would lead a council where the residents came first

Lord Mayor, over recent months Cllr Huddart and I have surveyed every house in our ward. Residents say their main concerns are deterioriating street cleaning, and concerns about roads and pavements.. This year, there has been no ward allocation for road and pavement maintenance for the first time in my 17 years on this council, and is none planned for the future. This is a budget that demands more from taxpayers but gives them less in terms of local services and does nothing to respond to the priorities of local people.

Cllr Forbes told us he would lead a council which would be fit for purpose.

The reality is different. We have a top-down council so lacking in vision and fitness for purpose it is unable or unwilling to relocate the Tourist Information Centre's functions to the City Library to maintain a basic service.

Instead we have a council which spends the highest total in the country on social media, and where officers are employed to tell people on Twitter that they are not allowed to respond to their concerns and people must report problems to Envirocall themselves. We have already heard in this chamber over the last year just how bad the Envirocall service has become, and people can see with their own eyes just how bad the streets have become - we have Indecent Neighbourhoods where we were promised Decent Neighbourhoods. Yet Tonight's budget only avoids further cuts to street cleaning by slashing ward budgets - don't think that sleight of hand has gone unnoticed.

Cllr Forbes boasts about how his administration is investing in the city to make it an attractive place for investors.

He forgets it goes against everything he said when the Lib Dems ran the city when he was a bitter critic of our investment in Science City and the Stephenson Quarter. Given that he has now learnt his lesson, I would encourage him to go further. If he wants to make the city more attractive he should heed the approach of the Lib Dem council and prioritise street cleaning. Equally, if he is serious about creating a Working City , he should seek to follow the Lib Dem lead by supporting Newcastle Futures, not cut more of their job support advisors.

Lord Mayor, Cllr Forbes talked loudly of how fairness would be at the heart of everything the council did under his leadership.

I recall how he denounced this side of the chamber in Budget meetings past about how wicked it was to increase funeral charges - taxing the dead, he called it. It seems he is less pious about that now. I don't recall Cllr Forbes saying anything about us introducing charges on disabled people, because I don't believe we did - yet tonight he is proposing to introduce charges on parking for disabled people and reducing support for transport for children with special educational needs. How noble. How progressive. How the hell is that fair?

Cllr Forbes promised a fair and progressive administration where all decisions would be governed by the Newcastle Future Needs Assessment and by inequality impact assessments.

Well I have an important question, Lord Mayor. Has an IIA been carried out by this council on the impact of the proposed rise in council tax? I have enquired whether one has been published. I haven't been able to find one. If one has been done it will show clearly that the administration's tax rise is regressive. Everyone in the city will be paying more to get less, but the "heat map" will show it hits the poorest in this city hardest. Cllr Forbes and the party opposite know that is true, and they know it is a course of action that they did not have to take because the Government freeze grant continued to be on offer.

The council tax rise is a broken Labour promise and it proves that their claims to be a progressive administration guided by fairness are a sham. After four years of Cllr Forbes' leadership, local services have shrunk, council performance is worse, and quality of life is eroded - he spends on the Civic Centre not crossing patrols, on heat maps but not highways, on Twitter but not on transformation.

I will vote against this budget with a clear conscience this evening. I wonder how many voting for it can say the same.