Last night was budget council at Wokingham Borough Council. Below is my speech in full.
“When listening to the opposition it would be very easy for a member of the public to mistake this meeting for the budget debate of a failed communist state or that a bankrupt socialist council.
The simple truth here is though, that despite the opposition’s doom and gloom, despite their sensationalist rhetoric and their desperate attempts at headline seeking sound bites, the very simple truth is that each and every councillor in this chamber is extremely fortunate.
We are fortunate, Mr Mayor, because we are here tonight to debate a budget that is investing, significantly, into our community.
Unlike some near-by councils, we have a budget that is balanced, again.
We have a budget that is not cutting any services.
We have a budget that proposes a below inflation council tax increase, because, here in Wokingham, we can both choose, and afford to support residents while other aspects of their costs of living increase.
We have a budget that does not require us to sell £300 million worth of council owned assets in order to service debt or fill a budget shortfall as our near neighbours in bankrupt Labour-run Slough are doing.
And, we have a sound budget proposed by councillors elected from among the residents, not one imposed on residents by a state appointed administrator because of an incompetent council.
Tonight, we debate a budget to build solar farms, plant trees, reduce waste and increase recycling. A budget that continues to help residents reduce their carbon footprints and their energy bills via the Help to Heat scheme that has already benefited over 1,300 households across our borough.
This is a budget that opens libraries while other councils are closing them. It invests into infrastructure like schools, greenways, cycle paths, active transport, reducing congestion, improving air quality, protecting green spaces and building play parks, community hubs and leisure centres.
This is a budget that is regenerating communities, such as Gorse Ride, is investing in to social and affordable housing, that will enable our borough to become a UNICEF UK Child Friendly Community, and that is boldly aiming to make poverty in our community a thing of the past.
We are able to do all this because of the sound financial policies and over 20 years of balanced budgets created by this, and previous Conservative administrations.
Each of us in this chamber have ideas and projects we would like the council to fund. What we debate tonight is differing views on where to prioritise investment and what we hear from the opposition is not a new budget, but simply their view on how they would want to re prioritise council investment.
They, however, give their opinion without the benefit of our army of expert, role specialist officers, that they repeatedly praise in this chamber. People who know what needs to be done, how to do it and how much it will cost.
Each of us in this room should be grateful that Wokingham isn’t in the same financial dire straits of some of our neighbouring authorities.
Or opposition may never admit this out loud, but I for one am hugely grateful for 20 years of sound Conservative policies. Without them we would most likely be here tonight debating above inflation council tax increases and what assets the council needs to sell, rather than what infrastructure, initiatives and ideas we can choose to invest in.
All I can say is ‘Thank God for the Conservatives.’