It will be no surprise to any of you that I propose to talk about reserves.
What are they? What should they be?
They should be sums deliberately kept aside to cover any unforeseen and emergency matters, plus sums set aside for capital projects you will undertake in the foreseeable future.
Well, in 2010, you had £10.6 million kept aside to cover emergencies, Eric Pickles thought that was excessive then.
But let’s assume that that is a sensible amount.
Then you have sums you have set aside to fund the Broadband programme, and our contribution to the major infrastructure projects, and to cover the introduction of the new Apprenticeship system.
We don’t argue with any of that – in fact, we think you should be setting aside more to cover projects, and in particular the 3rd Crossing in Lowestoft, to make sure that the current £20 million funding gap can be filled.
But that is not the whole of what the reserves actually are, is it?
Every year there is an underspend. Every year that extra sum is put into the reserves. Every year you find more and more complicated ways of disguising the money in these “reserves” as if it were actually there for a purpose: Corporate Contingency Reserve; Earmarked Reserves; Service Reserves; Renewals Reserve.
Are you aware that there is £500k in the reserves for Music Services it’s been there for at least three years doing nothing.
Reserves belong to the taxpayer – it’s their money you’re stashing away
And let’s get this clear, this administration’s revenue reserves – not capital, revenue – stood on 1st April at £148.8m. That’s the last known balance – every figure since then is speculation –
£148.8 million of the taxpayers money
And that’s not to mention the so-called Capital Reserves. If we include them, a sum of £42 ½ million, that brings the total reserves to £191 million.
In 2010 those reserves stood at £77.8m. That means the overall reserves have nearly trebled in 7 years. But over the same period the Budget requirement has dropped from £510m to currently £487.9.
So let’s look at the reserves for this budget.
As well as their swingeing cuts, this administration claim that they will use £8m of reserves to meet the budget shortfall.
Cllr Smith puts on his gravest face and tells us solemnly that using £8m is necessary and how deeply he regrets it. Don’t you all remember the same message last year? It all reads like a children’s story. The same Grave solemn face, warnings that the sky is about to fall. What actually happened? The sky didn’t fall. Instead the cuts were implemented, the cabinet member tells us all how clever he has been and lo and behold we stash more of the taxpayers money – £9m more – away in reserves.
BUT we still cut the services to our taxpayers. It’s the same taxpayers money he is telling his stories about, Their money, not his, not the administration’s , not the Council’s but the hard working taxpayers money, Their money..
We this side of the Chamber didn’t believe the stories then, we told you at the time, and we don’t believe them now. After May when we sit on that side of the chamber and I sit in Cllr Smiths seat I shall examine each of the reserves, starting with the £2.5m Lowestoft footbridge the money for which sits comfortably stashed in reserves even though there is no intention of spending it.
This County Council’s revenue reserves stand at over 30% of our budget requirement!
There is no justifiable reason to sit on this money. Government ministers are suspicious of Councils hoarding funds, they already have their eye on the pension funds, how long before they want our reserves? How can we claim that the revenue support grant isn’t sufficient for our needs when we continue to squirrel away money in this way.
That’s why we propose to use £15.66m from the Contingency reserve, and a further £3.5m from the Capital reserve and £740 thousand from the On Street Parking Reserve – putting the money to the use it was set aside for.
What is your message to Suffolk taxpayers? “We can’t afford to provide a safe residential place for your mother or father because of government cuts…..We can’t afford to make sure your town is safe from fires………Your roads fit to drive on…….or to provide buses to get you to hospital……..
Well it won’t do! There is money there, enough to spend, not just this year but next year and the year after and so on until the government sees sense, and we have a duty to use it to keep our residents safe.