On Monday, Greenwich Council’s leader outlined his town hall’s new budget. Now the borough’s opposition leader, MATT HARTLEY, introduces his alternative budget, which will also be discussed by councillors tomorrow night.
To govern is to choose – and the choices made by the new group of Labour councillors who run Greenwich Council, in their first budget, don’t do nearly enough on some of the big issues facing our borough.
That’s why my colleagues and I – the only three opposition councillors left at the town hall – have produced our own fully-costed alternative budget this year. Our plans will be the subject of five separate votes at the Town Hall on Thursday, and are full of new ideas for improving the lives of Greenwich residents.
We need action to revive our borough’s smaller shopping parades, which are struggling to recover from the pandemic. Our alternative budget would create a new Empty Shops Action Fund – with financial incentives for would-be small business owners to enter into retail tenancies. The fund would also cover the costs of using new rental auction powers being introduced in the government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill so that areas like New Eltham can tackle problems with empty shops owned by absentee landlords.
We need to do much more to tackle problems like anti-social behaviour, drug dealing and fly-tipping. Tackling these problems is like a game of whack-a-mole – the council and police concentrate on one area, and the problem just shifts somewhere else. Our alternative budget would triple the council’s stock of mobile CCTV cameras – and fund their rapid deployment and redeployment to combat these problems in a more agile way.
And we need to do much, much more to help low-income residents with the cost of living. The new Labour administration at Woolwich Town Hall has been slow to act on this. They took four months to bring forward their own policy response to the cost of living crisis – and only after being embarrassed into acting by our proposals last summer. The Greenwich Supports package they eventually came up with was a good one, which we have supported – but the delay was costly.
We have now found a way to fund a £100 cost of living payment to nearly 16,000 households on the very lowest incomes across our borough. Our plan is linked to the administration’s own, delayed, efficiency programme. It would pay for this help with £1.7m of funding from additional council tax and business rate collection that Labour is using to underwrite the risk of continued delay – but only when they achieve the equivalent amount of their own planned savings.
This policy would act as a powerful incentive for Greenwich Council to modernise its operations – meeting its own planned timetable for transforming services – and at the same time deliver £100 to households who have been ignored by Labour’s plan.
Our package can be funded without any impact on frontline services by redirecting £1.1 million a year of waste, inefficiency and undeployed resources in Labour’s budget – including reversing Labour’s plan to spend an extra £1m on communications staff over the next five years.
It’s exactly this kind of inventive proposals that are lacking from this new Labour administration’s first budget – new ideas that challenge the status quo and are resolutely focused on delivering maximum impact for residents.
Instead, we hear endless party politics from Labour councillors – and misleading statements about central government funding. Despite Labour’s continued claims that government funding for Greenwich is falling “year after year”, the reverse is true.
Central government funding for Greenwich Council has gone up £18.8 million going into 2023/24 – the third significant increase since 2019, now totalling £40.3 million of additional funding for Greenwich in the current parliament. And that’s on top of the vast amount of funding the government provided to the council, businesses and residents through the Covid-19 pandemic.
While Labour councillors always seem to want to talk about Westminster, Conservative councillors want to talk about Greenwich.
That’s why we’ve worked so hard to develop the policy ideas in this year’s alternative budget. If they’re not prepared to adopt them, we will be voting for a one percentage point reduction in Labour’s planned council tax increase.
You might be wondering – with just 3 votes in the council chamber to Labour’s 52, and with zero prospect of ever actually winning a budget vote – why we bother with all this. To be honest, sometimes I wonder that myself. But there is a long and growing list of opposition Conservative proposals that are voted down by Labour, only to be adopted as council policy anyway.
Our borough’s 100% council tax support ccheme, financial support for young care leavers, new investment in our parks – all of these policies and more started their life as Conservative proposals in our alternative budgets. This year we can add the reinstatement of town centre jet washing to that list – which was at the centre of my predecessor Nigel Fletcher’s budget proposals last year, voted down by Labour at the time but then implemented just 12 months later. This year we are aiming to extend jet washing to eight of our borough’s smaller centres: Eltham’s Westmount Road shops, New Eltham, Mottingham, Middle Park, Charlton, Blackheath Standard, East Greenwich and Thamesmead.
So regardless of how Labour votes tomorrow night, we will be campaigning hard for our new policy ideas for Greenwich in the coming months. That’s because budget votes, amendments and even politicians can be defeated – but good ideas cannot.
I am looking forward to debating these ideas on Thursday, and continuing to press the new Labour administration to do more to tackle the big issues facing our borough.
MATT HARTLEY is the leader of the opposition on Greenwich Council, and a Conservative councillor for Mottingham, Coldharbour & New Eltham ward.
Thursday night’s council meeting can be watched online from 7pm.
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