Fringe Box



Coalition Partners Trade Verbal Blows While Claiming Credit for Latest Council Budget

Published on: 11 Feb, 2023
Updated on: 12 Feb, 2023

By Martin Giles

Cracks in the Liberal Democrat and Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV) borough council coalition are widening following a Lib Dem press release on the recently approved budget.

The statement from the leading party at Guildford Borough Council has sparked a spiky reaction from other political parties at the council, especially their coalition partners.

As anticipated, in the run-up to what is a highly unpredictable council election, in less than three months’ time, the gloves are coming off.

In the press release, the Lib Dems say: “Thanks to sound financial management, Liberal Democrats have prioritised public services, investment in affordable housing, and cushioning the cost of living crisis in this year’s GBC budget.

“Liberal Democrats running Guildford Borough Council (in coalition with R4GV) have made their priorities clear in this year’s council budget, which was passed by full council on the evening of 8th February.

“Thanks to our responsible financial management, we are proud to have been able to both protect public services and cushion the cost of living crisis for local people.”

The press release ended provocatively: “And, as we head into this May’s local elections, we look forward to setting out our plans for the more ambitious action we would like to take once freed from the constraints of coalition with a party which does not share, and often opposes, our priorities for the people of our borough.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore, R4GV leader

The leader of R4GV, who with Cllr Tim Anderson has managed the council’s finances since their party’s partnership agreement with the Lib Dems in 2020, was quick to respond. He pulled no punches as he confirmed the distance between the two parties.

Cllr Joss Bigmore (Christchurch) said: “R4GV is proud that we do not share values with the Lib Dems, we do not value endless debate, underwhelming delivery, poor performance and the avoidance of accountability.

“R4GV is committed to its vision of Shaping Guildford’s Future, proud of its management of Guildford’s finances over the past four years, and unafraid of driving the changes Guildford needs to thrive in the years to come.

“The Liberal Democrats U-turned on North Street, have stuck the Guildford Park Road development in mud for four years, taken the entire administration to deliver a Climate Change Action Plan despite declaring an emergency in May 2019 and have led the Planning Department from being amongst the best in the country to the worst.  The one thing we share – we also can’t wait to be freed from the constraints of coalition.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

The leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, Ramsey Nagaty (Shalford), had not seen Cllr Bigmore’s comment but jumped in to back it, saying: “I find the Lib Dem position and claim for credit on the budget quite extraordinary.

“The main Executive members who have worked extensively on GBC finances to ensure a best-case budget, despite the current situation, are Cllrs Joss Bigmore and Tim Anderson.

“GGG applaud the sterling work they have done on residents’ behalf. I really think playing politics with the electorate before the forthcoming election on this matter is misguided given the work R4GV councillors have done on the budget.

“As for the constraints of working with R4GV, I await news of the more ambitious actions the Lib Dems would pursue in the event they obtain sole leadership of GBC.  I am at a loss to know how R4GV have held the Liberal Democrats back. Perhaps they can explain in detail?”

Outlining some of the main aspects of the budget, the Lib Dems point out in their statement that despite inflation rates of up to 15 per cent: “Guildford’s share of council tax will be going up by just 3 per cent. Rents for council housing tenants will be going up by just 5 per cent and rents for garages by just 3 per cent.

“Instead of cutting public services, we’ve made use of our reserves. Instead of hiking charges and fees, we’re making back-office savings through our bold collaboration with Waverley Borough Council, which is already saving us hundreds of thousands a year from the merger of senior management.

“Thanks to these decisions, we will continue to provide excellent value for money for local people and be able to continue to fund public services which are needed more than ever during a cost of living crisis.

“Our budget includes a £20 million investment in our council houses to improve energy efficiency (cutting costs for our tenants) and ensure our homes are safe and healthy to live in.”

Sallie Barker

Conservative GBC councillors by abstaining were the only members not to vote in favour of the budget. Avoiding the internal coalition spat, Sallie Barker, chair of the Guildford Conservative Association, took a more traditional party view, avoiding all mention of R4GV. She said: “The Liberal Democrat statement simply denies the reality in front of them.

“Since 2019, residents have seen increased council tax bills, increased parking charges, planning applications not being approved, public toilets closing and a council that fails to deliver on affordable housing and cannot even pick up the phone.

“Guildford deserves better than the Liberal Democrats. In May, local people have the chance to reverse this decline by choosing a Conservative council that delivers on Guildford’s priorities.”

Cllr James Walsh

And Labour’s Cllr James Walsh (Stoke) was similarly dismissive: “This is a very insipid budget which has no narrative and no vision for Guildford.

“The budget meeting itself showed that there are serious divisions within the coalition.

“Sadly, this budget is at best functional. We are not pleased that rents and the council tax have had to be increased to help maintain services, but understand that all councils have had to make similar decisions because of the decade of cuts imposed by a slew of Conservative governments.

“Guildford deserves a lot better than what it has been getting for the last four years and we need to be more than functional to turn the borough around and provide the jobs, homes and leisure facilities that will revitalise our town and villages.

“Most of all, we want it to happen in a way that protects the environment and enhances the way we all live, work and play – and we just don’t see it happening under the current administration.”

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Responses to Coalition Partners Trade Verbal Blows While Claiming Credit for Latest Council Budget

  1. Helena Townsend Reply

    February 11, 2023 at 7:51 pm

    The people of Guildford hold both parts of this coalition responsible for the poor running of the council over the last four years.

    Cllr Bigmore is trying to distance himself from the Lib Dems now but we all know they’ve been a dead duck since the last election with Cllr Caroline Reeves handing over power and Cllr Julia McShane having no voice whatsoever. So it’s been R4GV in control.

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