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Opinion: We Don’t Like Making Cuts – It Wasn’t What We Were Elected To Do

Published on: 1 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 3 Feb, 2022

Cllr Maddy Redpath.

By Maddy Redpath

R4GV borough councillor

No councillor or council officer at GBC wants to make the cuts to services the community needs or enjoys. Nor do we want to increase parking charges and other fees.

These decisions are not taken lightly but almost every council meeting since I was elected involves concerns about balancing the budget. The reality is from 2013/14 to 2018/19 the central government’s Revenue Support Grant to GBC was reduced from £4 million per annum to zero.

The Revenue Support Grants finally disappeared completely in 2019.

It is true, GBC did receive some emergency funding from the government during the pandemic but this was not enough to cover the losses from closed car parks, leisure centres and GLive. The council had to use £6.5 million of its own reserves to make up the shortfall. But reserves can only be used in the short term.

These decisions are not taken lightly

Reserves are meant for “rainy days” from pandemics to a financial crisis – not to protect councillors from public criticism or postpone the inevitable.

So, readers might imagine my frustration last week when MP Angela Richardson, at her  “Guildford Forum” meeting, said that councillors should rethink the budget and use the remainder of our Covid-depleted reserves to prevent cuts.

It was worrying, alarming even, that the person representing us in Westminster didn’t appear to understand how restricted local authorities are because of the removal of government funding under her party’s policies.

Faced with the pandemic her government has borrowed very heavily, and at some risk if interest rates rise. But even prudent borrowing is not permitted for local authorities. It is the law that our annual budgets have to balance.

And we cannot simply sell a building, say, and use that money to maintain services. There are strict rules preventing the use of capital funds on services.

Faced with the government funding cuts, well before the pandemic, the previous Conservative administration, initiated the “Future Guildford” project, a major cost-cutting exercise to make ends meet, a project this administration has been forced to continue.

Of course, it is always good to try and improve efficiency and cut out dead wood but the staff cuts have taken a toll. We are saving approximately £7 million a year but at the cost of over 100 jobs.

And to achieve yet more savings the council is currently embarking on an “Inter Authority Agreement” with Waverley Borough Council which has commenced with a shared chief executive role between the two councils.

So should we raise council tax? Well, we are mindful of other cost-of-living pressures, set to get worse, and we are only allowed to increase council tax by up to two per cent a year, (GBC gets to keep just nine per cent of the council tax we all pay).  Our planned rise will produce only £300k in extra revenue, this is barely enough to cover the 1.25 per cent increase in employer National Insurance contributions that the government has imposed.

Sadly, we had no choice but to make the hated cuts.

With inflation also seemingly out of control we have a situation where our cost base is increasing far more rapidly than our revenues. Sadly, we had no choice but to make the hated cuts.

All district and borough councils, from all political persuasions across the country, are similarly affected and are making similar difficult decisions. I am sorry to say there may well be more pressure next year, and the year after that, unless central government realises the serious damage they are inflicting on the local services provided to our residents.

Reducing services is not something I, or any councillor, was elected to do but I hope residents can see that the council is trying to be fair and to protect those most in need when taking the difficult decisions required by the ongoing financial circumstances.

It would be helpful if our MP, now she has resigned from her government role and says she will have more freedom to criticise the government and work for the people of her Guildford constituency, could understand the real budgetary issues at Guildford Borough Council and prompt a re-think at government level.

The government has its own budgetary challenges, we all know that, but leaving local authorities starved of funds is not sustainable, it is not fair and it is not right.

For a more detailed explanation of the budget, see R4GV’s latest update here.

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test 5 Responses to Opinion: We Don’t Like Making Cuts – It Wasn’t What We Were Elected To Do

  1. William Lawrence Reply

    February 1, 2022 at 8:56 pm

    I wish GBC would take a more business-like approach. They have always been more concerned with selling off their assets rather than using them to produce revenue. Sometimes you have to be daring, original, inventive. Guildford has gone down the route of large chains dominating the High street instead of indépendants and a more local economy. Think outside the box GBC and you could build a more sustainable future.

    • Andrew Calladine Reply

      February 18, 2022 at 9:31 am

      Perhaps you can give some constructive ideas rather what they shouldn’t be doing? I note that many councils who have been more “daring” have come badly unstuck. Do you think it’s wise to use their small amount of revenue to speculate in the hope it will pay off?

  2. Henry Aston Reply

    February 18, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    Meanwhile the CEO of Guildford Borough Council currently receives £168,255 in salary, expenses and pension contributions every year.

    He is shared with Waverley Borough Council, meaning GBC has a part-time CEO on a wage of roughly £84,128 a year, so as our councillor mentions our MP, the CEO receives the same wage as she does, for a part-time role in the council.

    This was quite a recent appointment made in November 2021 and voted for by this very councillor.

    To put this into perspective, the increase on council tax will result in generating less than half of what they pay a single council administrator a year.

    Now imagine what all of the other administrative staff in their Head Office are earning and you’ll see our current council really do not have any of our interests in mind when talking about “difficult decisions” and the “need to make cuts”.

    If they looked internally, they could easily make up the shortfall without cutting any services, but what government, local or national, would actually try and do good by their constituents financially?

  3. David Roberts Reply

    February 21, 2022 at 1:26 pm

    A lot of people like to say that council officers are by definition a waste of money, without really thinking about it. But if like me you disagree, the only way to avoid cuts in a situation of falling budgets is through shared services.

    Not all councils have to provide a full range of services. The obvious way to go is hub-and-spoke arrangements. This means merging certain things to a higher level, just as the police and hospital trusts do, and devolving others with attendant resources to a lower one.

    And I don’t mean a one-way power-grab as briefly proposed by the Tories on Surrey County Council. Parish councils, for instance, are a vastly underrated resource usually treated with contempt by both GBC and SCC.

    With deep local knowledge, they would take much quicker, better decisions on planning matters, even on difficult problems such as where to site hundreds of new houses. Our system of monolithic statutory planning authorities is responsible for no end of expense, inefficiency and public suffering.

    The main risk of hubs-and-spokes is the potential loss of clear lines of accountability, so it must be matched by greater democratic involvement. If parishes were treated like grown-ups we’d soon see this happen automatically, as it does in other countries where local democracy is in a healthier condition.

  4. Peta Malthouse Reply

    March 22, 2022 at 5:46 pm

    I thank Cllr Maddy Redpath for setting this out so clearly

    The message from this is please don’t believe a word the Tories tell you. They are in government. They have planned these costs and set these restrictions and they offload their responsibilities onto our local government so that they can shift the blame.

    The criticism of the appointment of the CEO who is now responsible for running two large local authorities in Surrey makes me laugh. Where is it supposed GBC gets the quality of applicants needed for this rum show and how much have we saved as a result?

    The decisions seem sound ones to me.

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