Like many people in the Lowestoft area, I was shocked, though not surprised, by the severity of the latest local government grant settlement.
Waveney is the joint worst-hit council in Suffolk, with its funding essentially cut in half. This is part of a very worrying pattern; we have the Tories leading the coalition government at Westminster, running our district and county councils and a Conservative MP, and yet Waveney, and Lowestoft in particular, seem to be bearing the brunt of the worst excesses of this government’s “slash and burn” approach.
I am a pragmatist at heart, and I understand and support the need for our public services to be efficient and good value for money. I seek balanced budgets and sensible planning.
A Labour leadership at Waveney would use zero-based budgeting. This means we would look seriously at what is needed and what is affordable and leave out those things which we could not justify.
While the Tories have opted to close Blundeston prison, refuse to give us assurances about Cefas and spend millions on free schools, we say that everything now needs to be put “back on the table”. We need to review all areas of expenditure and all plans for growth, and ensure that we have a secure and prosperous future.
What is clear is that the only real leadership in Lowestoft and across Waveney is coming from Bob Blizzard, myself and the Labour members on Suffolk County Council and Waveney District Council.
It was us who fought for the essential roundabout on the A12-northern spine road junction; us who tabled the motion urging the government to reconsider its plan to closeBlundeston prison; us who challenged the lack of accountability over unacceptable unemployment levels;
us who highlighted that the Tories in Westminster are rendering the Tories in power in Waveney completely pointless; and we are ones trying to work with people offering investment and employment locally.
I did ask at last week’s full council meeting if we could be told what the point was of having Tories in Waveney, to which I was refused an answer – so I’ll leave readers to draw their own conclusions.
One of the most worrying facts established in recent weeks was that, when challenged about unemployment locally – Waveney has unemployment levels higher than the rest of the region – we found that within the recent report on economic development, the “leaders” of our council decided that the best way to tackle this unacceptable problem was to ask for the section on employment targets to be “left blank”. No, this is not a joke; this was the answer.
I think that sums up pretty well the care and attention being given to those in need across the district. The next simple question was: “In 12 months’ time, what would be a reasonable level of unemployment?”.
I assumed that having a target for something so important might be a useful priority. Unsurprisingly, there was again no answer. How can we trust people to lead when they cannot even give us their targets and objectives, and when they are unable to even offer hope that they have a plan... or a clue.
We cannot turn away investment. We cannot assume that anything in our current plans is “off limits” for review or reversal. This grant settlement has placed a massive burden on all of us, but the Tories will have this fall upon those least able to pay – and we cannot allow that to happen.
We cannot be arrogant enough to think that only our plans can work. We cannot be inflexible. Our doors should be open to anyone who wishes to discuss growth, employment and opportunity. We should listen to anyone offering enterprise, innovation and improvement.
Tod Sullivan is Leader of the Labour Group on Waveney District Council