For the many?

‘At least we have a budget’ said the Labour Leader at the last full Council. Such is the level of local politics in Exeter now that ‘ner, ner, n’nerner’ could have easily followed this comment.

Greens and other opposition parties have repeatedly put forward alternative spending ideas only to have the one-party Labour state block and block in favour of their elite clique’s own disastrous plans.

It’s a matter of public record, Greens would not be spending over £50m on a new leisure centre. Instead, we would have built a popular and much-needed market square. We would have kept Clifton Hill open, saved the ski slope and the associated green space. Moreover, without the whopping great debt, St Sidwell’s point represents, Greens would have also got Riverside back on its feet long before now and all without the need to sell the city silver.

I voted against Labour’s budget because this budget represents huge cuts to jobs and services in Exeter. The budget report waived through by Labour said that ‘substantial reductions’ in spending had already been made but ‘additional reductions’ would need to be found. When I asked what these extra cuts might be, Labour claimed they didn’t know… yet.

Convenient, don’t you think? With the election only weeks away. Labour is hoping to elect or re-elect 13 City Councillors and they put forward a budget with ‘mystery cuts’ they will only reveal after the election.

I couldn’t in good conscience support this budget and knowing many Labour Councillors as well as I do, I’m not sure how any of them could support it either.

We have to ask why it is budget cuts are needed? The first reason, as Labour rightly point out, is because the Tories in Westminster are cutting the grant to Councils year on year whilst simultaneously telling us austerity is over.

The second perhaps less well-known reason is because of the excessive borrowing this Labour administration proposes to plunge us all into.

If you would like to know the cost of the money being borrowed in your name, take a look page 61 of the budget report. The figure for servicing city debts this year is up to almost £1.8m and rising every year after.

So, the total money we receive from Government is dropping year on year. Yet, year on year we are spending more of our dwindling income on paying back loans principally proposed for new leisure centre, the cost of which increases year on year. I’m no expert but this doesn’t sound sustainable to me.

To put it another way, and you can find this on page 62 of the budget report, in the year ending 2018 the Council was spending 5% of its income repaying loans. By year ending 2022, we will be paying out over 20%; just on servicing our debts. If this wasn’t bad enough the term of some of these loans is a whopping 50 years.

Labour claim all this debt and more will be covered by the money generated from the new pool. Remember though, Labour also claimed the pool would cost £20m, not the £50m+ we are now being asked to fund. Forgive me if I remain a little skeptical about Labour’s budget claims.

Labour must be honest with residents – It’s not just austerity, it’s also this pool project that will take money away from council services and likely send hard-working council staff down the road on more and more redundancy. We have to ask then, is this budget for the many? Or just the few?

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