“Front-line services that we deliver in Hertfordshire … are still the Cinderella of the public sector,” said County Cllr Sharon Taylor, putting the blame for reduced services squarely where it belongs – on central Government.
Sharon was proposing the Labour Group’s amendment to the Tory administration’s proposals for the 2020/21 budget for the County Council on 25 February 2020.
The amendment asked the County Council to recognise, following overspends this year in Adult Care Services and Children’s services, that long-term solutions were needed and called for cross-party representation be made to Government on the devastating impact of austerity on the most vulnerable in our community. The Council should also call for the early completion of the business rates review and the publication of the green paper on social care.
In the County Council, there had been broad cross-party agreement about the urgency of tackling climate change.
“Sadly, the Government is great on the delivery of empty rhetoric, great on passing the buck on so many key issues (such as climate action) …straight over to local government,” she said. “Where they are not so good … is the delivery of proper funding and relevant powers.”
The Government has been “trotting out that smoke and mirrors mantra” that they were providing a 4.4% boost to local government spending. However, more than half of this is not government funding at all, but consists of the 2% adult care precept added to council tax and the maximum permitted increase in council tax (1.99%).
Sharon did not challenge the Tory proposal to make full use of this revenue, but pointed out that the Government had not provided a funding settlement, but rather “a big bill for our residents”.
She welcomed the proposal by the Tories to spend the adult care precept on an increase in wages for the staff who look after our most vulnerable residents. “Too many of them in Hertfordshire still work for companies that do not value their services enough,” she added, “that is why our Labour Group retains our proposal to carry out a feasibility study into delivering all of our social care in house or through a co-operative organisation, like Leading Lives in Suffolk, or our own Herts at Home.”
Returning to the urgent challenge of tackling climate change, she proposed fast action on some quick wins that young people in particular were crying out for: plastic-free zones, community orchards, drinking water stations to avoid single-use plastic bottles and wildflower verges.
The council has clear policies to encourage the use of public transport to help reduce carbon emissions. “And yet, we have contradicted these,” Sharon said, “by increasing the cost of the young person’s Saver Card and by withdrawing bus subsidies.” Labour also proposed the return of seven-day opening of the Household Waste Recycling Centres.
The other Labour proposals included the reversal of the cuts in youth services and the strengthening of the Community Targeted Team in supporting young people with mental health issues. A key proposals was that young people leaving care should have exemption from council tax. The Conservative administration has been looking at this for a year yet nothing has materialised.
A proposal to allow councillors to have the street lights kept on longer, if their divisions wanted that, would cost little or nothing.
Cllr Judi Billing, the leader of the Labour Group, in seconding the amendment, emphasised that the Group was not seeking a revolution, but to make some changes in emphasis to support our young people and our vulnerable older people, as well as our commitment to tackling climate change.
The amendment was supported by the Liberal Democrat Group, but was defeated by 46 votes to 27.