Clare Sutton's Budget Speech

24 February 2019

This is the text of the budget speech given by Clare Sutton, Green Party county councillor for Rodwell. Clare urges the Conservative council not to pass on cuts to schools, and to do more for the homeless.

"I’d like to thank officers and executive members for completing what has clearly been a highly complex exercise. That you have produced a balanced budget, on paper at least, is no mean feat. Furthermore, I commend you for producing a budget which for the most part protects vital frontline services, and I particularly welcome the much-needed additional allocation of £6.3m to Children’s Services. However, Green Councillors are not able to support this budget for the following reasons.

Firstly, whilst it is not included in the figures, the budget’s supporting paper assumes that, should the Secretary of State approve our request to move £3.1m from the Schools’ Block to the High Needs Block, we will set that against the new Dorset Council’s expenditure, thereby reducing schools’ budgets by a whopping £3.1m. The Interim S151 Officer has expressed the view that this is unlikely to be approved but, if this windfall IS forthcoming, surely we should not pocket it, and pass a massive £3.1m cut onto our schools? I have frequently expressed my concern about how secondary schools in Weymouth and Portland in particular are struggling and to wilfully make this worse would be inexcusable. Given the composition of this chamber I will not waste everyone’s time by moving an amendment to this effect but I would strongly urge the new Dorset Council to make this commitment to our schools as soon as possible. Otherwise, this will only hit SEND provision[1] still harder.  

Secondly, even in the most detailed breakdown of the whole budget on page 43, I cannot find a heading for homelessness, or even where it might plausibly fit. As I know from my ‘day job’ with Pivotal Housing, the causes of homelessness are multiple and complex, and we also know that rough sleeping is a major issue in Weymouth in particular. Therefore, whilst I welcome the increase of £150k in the homelessness budget, this would barely purchase a rundown property in Weymouth’s Park District, where many of Dorset’s HMO[2]s are located. If we are serious about tackling homelessness, surely we need to reinstate Emergency Local Assistance funding[3] urgently. Again, I would strongly urge the new Dorset Council to do this immediately.

Thirdly, while I won’t repeat the arguments put forward by David, my colleague Dr Jon Orrell and others[4] about so-called ‘double devolution’, the transfer of responsibilities but not assets to Town and Parish Councils fundamentally transgresses the principles we all signed up to[5].

Clare Sutton

In sum then, whilst there is much to commend here, we are unable to support the budget.  Before the cries of ‘Well you can tell there’s an election coming up, can’t you?’ ring out, as they frequently do when I question how we best represent our communities’ interests, I would like to assure all councillors that I do this for the same reason as you do – because I care. If the new Dorset Council really is to be the promised brave new world, we need to ensure that we can all play a role in shaping it."

[1] Services for children with special educational needs, such as additional help in the classroom

[2] Houses of Multiple Occupancy

[3] This helps those moving into accommodation pay a deposit or buy necessary while goods and furniture for example. Evidence shows that this hugely increases the chance of the tenancy being maintained, and saves significant amounts of public money in the longer term. Dorset County Council decided it ‘could not commit’ the new Dorset Council to this expenditure so it has been suspended.  

[4] Jon Orrell and others talked mainly about the new Dorset Council stripping Weymouth and Portland’s assets

[5] ‘Double-devolution’ was supposed to mean the Government passing responsibilities and resources to unitary councils, who would do the same to Town and Parish Councils, and/or Local Area Boards. There is no evidence of the former and little evidence of the latter in Dorset

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