Anthony Powers – Opening Budget Speech Feb 2016-17 Debate

5th February 2015

Once again we are presented with a budget that gives almost no scope at all for us to propose the big changes that we, It’s Our County, would make to create ‘Our Herefordshire’.

Our two amendments, whilst vital for the services concerned, only account for a tiny fraction of the overall budget. Those amendments do not mean that we necessarily agree with the rest of the budget. And yes, we know that the ever-rising costs of our statutory care services suck in money like a black hole: unless the council can do all it can to enable people not to need those services. What most people value – like our libraries – and what they depend on the most, is the entire range of other services.

Speaking of what people value, it was Einstein – he of E=mc2 (so he knew a bit about equations) – who said: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count. Everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” So let’s remember the values which count for our residents, and not just what this budget can count.

Any budget – whether a household’s or Herefordshire Council’s – is about making choices. This administration continues to make poor choices – in its revenue and capital programmes – and continues to overlook the smart choices which would enable and empower our local communities and our partners to survive and prosper through the continuing financial storm. This is another ‘eyes down’ budget from an ‘eyes down’ administration. Let’s look up and around instead; and let’s do better.

For example, with our ideas and smarter choices the council would already be:

  • Supporting the key roles of tourism and culture in economic growth
  • Working with city, market town and rural parish councils, maximising their capability to co-operate and share funding to retain and support local services
  • Keeping the county farms estate in public ownership
  • Prioritising an eastern river crossing in Hereford, as supported by common sense, logic, the City Council – and even the local Conservative MP(!)
  • Benefitting from the in-county waste contract solution that was on offer as a viable alternative to the costly and inefficient out-of-county incinerator in East Worcestershire
  • Extending the local ‘Funding Circle’ concept to maximise the council’s investments in-county
  • Building social housing
  • Delivering Hereford’s Urban Village
  • Adding to our stake-holding in West Mercia Energy
  • Maximising income generation from services

So ‘Our Herefordshire’ would now look very different.

  • We would have robust policies to control industrial agriculture, threats from fracking, and the disastrous pollution levels in our rivers.
  • We would properly communicate, consult, listen, and act on what we hear
  • We would work with all our parishes, and invest in the county – not the stock market – to face present and future challenges.
  • We would have a thriving, community-owned, county farms estate, playing a key part in our food and drink industry
  • We would have a comprehensive ‘bottom-up’, not ‘top-down’, way of working

In short, and in conclusion, as far as this budget is concerned…“if we were you – the administration – we wouldn’t be starting from here”.

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