In a recent article on this website, alternative budget proposals from the County Labour Group to the County budget were reviewed. The proposals, which included support for a fairer deal for young people and the elderly, measures that would improve night time safety and security, actions to improve waste collection and oppose fly-tipping and better funding for adult and child care did not find favour with the Conservative controlled County Council who deemed them “reckless” even though the proposals were limited to essential matters, had been fully costed and were self-funding and sustainable. The proposals also addressed matters that tend to more acutely affect the less wealthy parts of the County.
Stevenage Borough Council, unlike the County Council is Labour-controlled. Like the County Council it is also subject to swingeing cuts in funding from our Conservative central government.
In October 1918 the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us “the era of austerity is finally coming to an end”. The reality is that this year the Borough will for the first time receive nothing in grant funding from central government. Over 60p in every pound allocated to local government has been removed by this government and the Liberal/Conservative alliance that preceded it. The annual loss of grant for Stevenage is now over £5 million which approximates to withdrawal of £370 for every household in the town each year.
Stevenage Borough Council however, is guided in its actions by the key priorities of the people of Stevenage which have not changed over recent years. Accordingly, the budget priorities for the town focus on the following: –
Regeneration plans for the town centre are being developed in Stevenage First with the County Council, local enterprise partnership, chamber of commerce and local business partnership. This work is proceeding despite non-participation of our MP. Some will have noticed works are underway and the changes from Market Place to Park Place are only the beginning of much more to come. Collaboration with major investors will bring obvious transformation to the town centre starting in 2019 as part of the SG1 and Stevenage North projects.
A major deal has now been signed by international developers MACE (who built the Shard and Tottenham Hotspurs stadium) and so the total value of private sector investment coming in to improve our town centre through the SG1 and Stevenage North projects is now over £400 million.
The provision of social and affordable homes for the people of the town is accelerating. New builds on the Twin Foxes and Dupont sites are now being occupied and more will follow.
The Cooperative Neighbourhood Management programme will be funded to work together with local residents in the town and facilitate measures to improve local environments, safety and to address anti-social behaviour. The “No More” project works closely with residents facing problems of anti-social behaviour sometimes driven by drugs or alcohol.
Other projects to be funded will include but are not limited to: –
- Improved road safety around schools at dropping off and picking-up points and times.
- Environmental projects working with volunteers like the Green Space volunteers and residents’ groups to deliver a spring clean for our town.
- The “Red Box” project working with Stevenage schools to provide menstrual products for those young women facing the embarrassment of not being able to afford them.
- There will be modest funding for a celebration of 100 years of council housing, something that has been pivotal to the development of the town in the past and will be more so in future.
- Modest funding will be provided to support the 60th anniversary of Stevenage Day
The Borough Council provides 120 services including bin collection, litter picking, parks maintenance, planning, housing etc. Given that this year, for the first time, there is NO central government grant because of “necessary austerity”, residents’ priorities cannot be met if council tax were frozen. Consequently, the boroughs component of council tax will rise by £6.11 a year or 2.99% for a band “D” property which approximates to a weekly charge of £3.60 for council tax payers.
In spite of the excessive austerity being imposed on local government by Westminster, the Labour led council in Stevenage continues to make progress in developing a £500,000 regeneration plan for the town, new council homes, £10 millions of new parks for our children, neighbourhood transformation, better cultural and sporting opportunities, a healthier community (a 7-10 year difference in life expectancy across different parts of the town is not going unnoticed), biodiversity, Green Flag parks and sustainable transport. This is all part of a job worth doing despite no financial grant from central Government.
The Stevenage Borough Council budget proposal was approved unanimously with no party abstaining or voting against. Surely enough to send central government a message? Let’s hope so!