Thank you, Mr Mayor for letting me speak and I would also like to thank officers for their help to me and the rest of the Conservative Group, in particular our s151 officer Rachel Howard and CEO Sarah Ireland and their team for the briefings they gave us on the details of this budget.
This is yet another disappointing budget from the LDs. With a maximum council tax rate rise for 5% AGAIN and further cuts to services. Where is the LibDem vision here? Do not forget that major projects such as the Cambridge Road Estate regeneration were initiatives started by the 2014-8 Conservative Administration and enabled by Conservative Government funding rules. Cocks Crescent in New Malden is still waiting to be developed and residents are down to just one council swimming pool for the whole of the borough with an increasingly longer wait for the Kingfisher Leisure Centre replacement.
This brings the Council Tax for a Band D property to £2,247 up from £1,771 when the LibDems took over in 2018, an increase of 27%. Even a Band C property will hit £2,000 for the first time in some areas of the Coombe wards. This is one of the highest rates in London and comes at a time when many Kingston residents are experiencing increased energy prices and an increased cost of living due the aftermath of the pandemic and awful war in Ukraine.
Conservatives are clearly the only party locally to aspire to minimise Council Tax rises for our hardworking residents.
Under the LibDems Kingston’s Council Tax in one of highest in London yet council services are further declining:
- Potholes getting worse - this is an issue that residents feel very strongly about and extremely dangerous for cyclists.
- Litter everywhere.
- Roads not being sufficiently cleaned - for example in Coombe Hill ward - Robin Hood Way often strewn with rubbish.
- Less frequent grass cutting - this looks awful in summer – not wildflowers – but weeds and dog mess!!
- Parks are a mess.
- New trees are planted which is good, but not sufficiently watered enough so don’t survive which is poor economy as need to be replaced at further cost.
- Under the LD’s waste collections contract – bin collectors are on such a tight schedule that bins are left strewn along pavements making it impossible for people with pushchairs or disabled / visually impaired people to navigate.
- The list goes on. These are the basics that residents expect their council to provide well with their high council tax – but have all declined since 2018.
The Government settlement for Local Government is considered fair and more generous than expected this year – an increase of 9.2% for 2023/24. The funding model for Kingston has changed from a general revenue support grant to more targeted grants including:
- A total of £13.3m specific grants, £14.6m grants in services budgets and £49,233k Housing Benefit Subsidy Grants received from the government in 2022/23.
Some specific examples include:
- £7.5m Social Care Support Grant – a new grant to help with demand growth in adults and children social care.
- £1.34m new grant this year - Market Sustainability and Improvement Fund to help fund initiatives to improve capacity in the adult social care market.
- I’m proud that our government this year set up and funded Home for Ukrainians scheme – £2.5m support so far and carrying on to next year.
- £1.7m household support fund passported through the council to help with cost of living. This is in addition to the government’s direct assistance towards household energy bills – at least £400 for every household between October 2022 and March 2023.
- £3,094k toward homelessness prevention and rough sleeper programmes this year with similar expected next year.
Kingston will benefit from £32.2m of capital grants in the coming year, including £14m planned expansion of Burlington Primary School and £1.5m disabled facilities grant – to help disabled people make changes to their home.
In addition Coombe Boys School is in the initial stages of a major rebuild, funded by the Conservative Government, which will provide a state of the art and carbon efficient new school for the future.
And let’s remind ourselves of the record COVID grants that Kingston received over the pandemic to keep council services running and support resilience for local businesses and residents:
- £15.474m unrestricted and £34.234m targeted funding
- £77.1m in grants for passporting to businesses
- Plus the generous furlough and self-employment support schemes paid direct to residents.
The United Kingdom has a strong tradition in providing safe refuge to the many people fleeing unsafe parts of the world. The illegal war in Ukraine which started just over a year ago shocked people here. We should all be rightly proud that our Conservative Government reacted so quickly to provide help and support to Ukraine in many ways. The Government’s Homes for Ukrainian scheme has helped many fleeing the war and I would like to pay tribute to all those residents including councillors who opened up their homes to a Ukrainian families. This is in addition to the ongoing government support for the Afghan and Syrian resettlement schemes.
Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrat Administration are not supporting businesses due the poor state of our streets and town centres:
- Kingston’s historic marketplace is deteriorating – with dirty pavement, litter and overflowing bins. Try shopping on a Sunday morning and having to walk through all the mess of the previous day. How can we expect to encourage new shops and business to the area this way? How can we encourage people to visit shop in person rather than shop by internet if we cannot make it a pleasant experience. Visit any retail shopping outlet and see how beautifully clean they are in comparison. Instead the LibDem’s budget is making cuts to cleaning of the marketplace to save £100k!!
- Parking charges are going up by a massive 15% - this will put people off coming to Kingston to spend money in out shops and restaurants.
- Reluctance to oppose the ULEZ expansion – the Administration refused to support the Conservative Group in opposing this and are allowing Sadiq Khan to install his camera network across Kingston. This extra tax on cars will have a huge negative impact on many small businesses as well as hitting the least poorest in our borough.
The Liberal Democrat Administration are not supporting residents:
- Kingston does not have adequate pool space to ensure all children can learn to swim. It is now difficult for families to enjoy leisure time with their children as only one aging public swimming pool for a population of nearly 170,000. The Kingfisher replacement was original budgeted for £40m and now estimated at £53m and will no doubt increase and delay further. Meanwhile the New Malden Centre is old and in much need of replacement.
- As more car free developments are approved, and cycling further encouraged Conservative Councillors feel that the council should do more to keep cyclists safe. Kingston now has a wide network of cycle routes, but these are not adequately maintained. The maintenance budget does not include adequate winter maintenance. For example this winter the Beeline Way New Malden was not gritted and too icy for use. If you are serious about encouraging cycling, then the routes need to be properly maintained all year round.
- Care charges to increase.
- Even fees for memorial and bereavement services to increase.
The LibDems war on motorists continues:
- Despite Coombe residents voting against a blanket introduction of20mph pre 2022, the LibDems have now decided to implement 20mph across the area including the main roads Kingston Hill and Coombe Lane West regardless of public opinion..
- £185k has been spent on 20mph and LTN schemes. This money could have been better spent fixing the increasing number of potholes which affect cyclists as well. The LibDem manifesto says that 20mph schemes would only be introduced in consultation with residents!! Not the case – you have consulted then done it anyway!! Just like the Labour Mayor of London with ULEZ!!
In complete contradiction to the LibDems saying they do not receive enough from centra government, they have found £720,000 of ‘spare funds’ to set up so called ‘community resilience fund’ to distribute money to local faith, charity and community groups. A one-off injection of funds will do the opposite of increasing resilience with charity and community groups and would have been better used in reversing cuts to social services. This does not cover any statutory duties and is in addition to generous cost of living grants from central government. Council has not been provided with detailed information on this fund. What assurance will we have that these council taxpayers funds will be used properly? Residents were certainly not asked whether they would like a proportion of their council tax rise to go to charity!!
So to sum up – you (LD Administration) promised to listen to residents. However residents are realising time and time again that you are not listening to them.
This is a depressing budget lacking in vision, charging the full 5% increase at this time of increasing fuel, food and other costs for residents, with further cuts to services, increasing potholes, town centres noticeably in decline and a lack of leisure facilities for an increasing population. The Conservative Group cannot support these proposals.