Trudy Dean's speech at the Kent County Council budget debate on Thursday 11th February
I received an email a couple of weeks ago from a constituent thanking me for KCC neglect. He said that he had got off a charge of speeding because the speed limit signs were so dirty the court deemed them impossible to read.
It is however unusual for neglect to be celebrated.
It's much more usual for people to ask, "What more am I getting for my increase in Council Tax, which this year for a Band D property amounts to an extra £45 per year just for KCC?"
And the answer this year is, "Not a lot".
The fact is that in many areas despite the best efforts of our staff, in many areas the public are going to get a worse service than before.
Our roads, through years of underfunding, will continue to deteriorate. There is a backlog of repairs currently of over £580m. and the level of spending is accepted as insufficient to keep it from growing further. That means more damage to cars and tyres, greater danger of road casualties, particularly to cyclists and pedestrians.
Our verges will only be cut once next year; unless more is required for safety. But, unless your name is Alan Titchmarsh they will not all turn into flower meadows.
Road signs are not being cleaned,
… road lining is not being carried out,
… weeds grow high in gutters and roundabouts and
… highway trees removed for disease and safety are not being replaced.
That means our towns and villages are looking more unkempt untidy and uncared for. A recent report stated Kent's roads are in "managed decline"
Roads are not the only such area.
This budget will result in a further loss of staff and I thank all those who will be leaving ... paying the price of a Government which is taking an axe to local council budgets. Whilst privatisation, or commissioning may drive costs down, it is the staff who lose their entitlement to Public Service terms and conditions who generate the lion's share of the savings. We are also beginning to see examples of our limited ability to carry out effective contract management on commissioned activity.
There are many areas of our operation where lack of staff is now seriously affecting our ability to respond to public need. I welcome the fact that at long last some of the budgets continually overspent have at last been given a more realistic amount of money. But we all know that in many areas, in care for the elderly in particular, it is nowhere near enough.
Low wages paid to workers in care for the elderly means we struggle year after year to recruit people to provide care services both in residential homes and at home. That means more people receiving poorer care in the wrong place.
That means more people occupying beds in hospitals who could and should be at home. That means that waiting times in Accident and Emergency departments, for operations and subsequently for beds on wards have climbed to levels not seen for over ten years. As we know, West Kent Hospital Trust is closed now for all non-emergency operations for two months.
Mrs May continually says we must find a way of funding care for the elderly. But the Conservative Party in Government set aside the proposals of the Dilnot recommendation of 2011, which was widely accepted, that this should be achieved through higher levels of National Insurance, and instead increased the proposed cap of £35k personal contribution to care costs to over £72k, disadvantaging once more the most needy, and kicked the start date for the scheme into the long grass beyond 2020.
Though the proposed levels of National Funding Formula for schools may rescue us in future years, the current levels of 8per cent cut in schools' budgets is the worst settlement for many years with schools openly discussing a four-day week. Though the commitment to retaining Children's Centres is welcome, the aim of a children's centre for every community was dropped long ago, together with any effective delivery of youth services so that in many areas, that means both services are now being delivered from hubs often remote from the areas they serve.
Many of our Early Years providers say they are unable to deliver the free entitlement for two, three and four year olds from working families within the existing budget and Government has already announced that Early Years funding rates for next will be frozen until 2020.
All these problems are being played out against a background of aggressive pressure from Government for building new homes in Kent. Decades of low building rates has left the country in an undoubted housing crisis. Home ownership is at its lowest level since 1972. But the Government response in this week's Housing Bill of stressing the importance of high rise accommodation and town cramming ignores the inability of the existing road system to cater with existing and rapidly growing traffic levels. The bill encourages older people to downsize, but just like those affected by the bedroom tax, it ignores the absence of properties, particularly bungalows, to downsize to. The result will be more congestion, more pollution, more ill health, and more homelessness, already at record levels, resulting in more people needing care in later life.
Liberal Democrats in Government have long argued for a fairer system of taxation related to the ability to pay. We favour a fairer system of Local Income Tax. We suggest additional higher value council tax bands are needed to ensure a fairer proportion of the costs are borne by higher earners.
We believe care for the elderly needs to be paid for by increased National Insurance levels.
I acknowledge that, in this run up to County Elections, Mr Carter has taken a high profile nationally about Government cuts and he has achieved some improvements; I thank him for that. And I wish our Directors and our staff all the luck they will need to cope with what our Cabinet Member for Finance has accepted is the worst budget, the highest risk budget, they have had to deal with.
But my group cannot support a budget which we know will leave people with worse services than before. As a result of this budget more people in Kent will go without
… safe affordable homes,
… safe roads,
… the right care in the right place care for the elderly and the young and
… strong protection of our countryside and environment.
For this budget Kent people will pay a very heavy price.