SUNDERLAND Labour Party has attacked an ‘unworkable and uncosted’ alternative budget proposed by city Conservatives.
Earlier this month, opposition councillors claimed their budget could limit any council tax rise to 3 per cent and still be able to fund adult social care. They claimed they would find savings within their budget, released in advance of the council’s budget meeting on Wednesday, March 7, by eliminating wasteful items, increasing revenue and through alternative funding.
Today, Councillor Mel Speding, Cabinet Secretary for Sunderland Council’s ruling Labour group and ward councillor for Shiney Row, attacked the proposals and the Tory government for the “swingeing cuts” that have hit the city hard.
Coun Speding said: “This so-called alternative budget is unworkable and uncosted.
“One of the Tories’ budget priorities is to create a new company which would be responsible for keeping our streets clean. Is there absolutely nothing the Tories do not want to privatise and where is the costed detail of such a proposal?
“The council has stepped up enforcement against a minority of people who still think they can drop litter wherever they like.
“Because of swingeing cuts imposed on Sunderland by both the Tory/LibDem Coalition and subsequently the Tory Government, the council simply does not have the resources to clean up after the irresponsible few who think that they can go around and drop litter wherever they like.
“People in Sunderland want a cleaner and greener city and we cannot tolerate those who are not making the effort to help keep our streets, parks, playing fields and neighbourhoods clean and tidy.
“The council has also successfully prosecuted fly-tippers in the last year and more prosecutions in the magistrates’ courts are pending.
“Privatisation is not the answer and we’d never support the introduction of private firms to carry out the council’s environmental enforcement.”
Coun Speding continued: “Another of the Tories’ proposals is to reduce councillors’ allowances by more than £100,000.
“The council has an independent remuneration panel to annually review allowances and that would be the appropriate body for the Tories to lobby. Apart from the two Lib Dems taking a 75 per cent and a 50 per cent rise in their allowances, there has been no increase in basic allowances since 2012.”
Mr Speding was particularly angry with a Tory suggestion to reduce trade union facility time as part of the ‘alternative budget.’
“We and the trades unions have been working so hard to alleviate the pain and suffering wrought on our committed workforce by the Tories’ ruthless austerity cuts.
“Since 2010 this council has lost more than 5,000 jobs, but through working closely with our union colleagues we have been able to avoid the need for compulsory redundancies,” he said.
“In common with all employers who recognise trade unions, the council has a legal duty to grant employees, paid or unpaid, time off from their work duties. This allows them to carry out reasonable and lawful trade union duties and activities.
“The council is also required by law to provide reasonable facilities for such duties and activities. By working closely with the unions, such as through collective bargaining, we recognise the important role unions play and we will continue to give them the time they need to represent the workforce.”
And Mr Speding was particularly dismissive about the Tories wish to increase the cost of parking in the city: “Parking in Sunderland is not only good value, but major increases, as businesses and customers regularly tell us, would have a detrimental effect on the economy of the city – increases would put people off coming into the city.”
Coun Speding said that despite Tory promises that austerity would end by 2015, drastic cuts to what the council is given by central Government are ongoing.
“There has been a long list of unpalatable decisions the council has had to ask the public to bear, that wouldn’t have even been contemplated if central Government had not insisted on its policy of extreme austerity for the last seven years.
“Sunderland Tories’ alternative budget includes funding the replacement of stolen wheelie bins; increasing funding for pothole repairs and funding plastic bottle recycling schemes.
“If the Tories’ heartless and pointless austerity policy wasn’t ongoing the council would have the resources to look at such things, but until austerity actually ends, the council’s hands will continue to be tied.
“Because of austerity, the council’s financial situation continues to be dire, with no end in sight. It’s rich that Sunderland Tories are coming up with hare-brained suggestions to try and put right a calamitous situation caused purely and solely by the extreme dogma enforced by their political masters in Westminster.
“We – and the city – will have to hope and pray for a Labour government as soon as possible.”