Investment is coming back to Billericay
Andrew votes for budget to Build Back Billericay Better!
On Thursday last week, I was pleased to support the budget moved by my ward colleague, Cllr. Stuart Sullivan (Con., Billericay East), Chairman of the Resources & Commercial Committee.
As I told my other ward colleague, the Mayor, in my speech to Full Council, I think Stuart has pulled another blinder, more than living up to his sobriquet as the 'Iron Chancellor of Basildon' and he moved an admirable budget - crucially, bringing back much-needed investment to Billericay that was sadly denied to us for nakedly political reasons by the previous Labour and Independent alliance.
The headline announcement from Stuart's budget was, of course, our decision to FREEZE Council Tax.
"In that light, I think it is quite right that this Administration has taken the decision not to contribute to strained household budgets, by resisting the Council Tax rises we are seeing from other local authorities."
There is always intense pressure on local councils to put up their Council Tax - both from Central Government (who want local authorities to raise tax so that they don't have to!) and local residents, who want their local councils to do more and more (but for the same money or less!) - and at a time when we all know that household budgets are under strain, as costs in various other parts of people’s lives are going up, it makes setting the local Council Tax a difficult balancing act.
In that light, I think it is quite right that this Administration has taken the decision not to contribute to strained household budgets, by resisting the Council Tax rises we are seeing from other local authorities.
We all know, of course, that Adult Social Care and Looked-After Children are key drivers of rises in the Essex County Council precept and, unfortunately, this makes up the lion's share of your total Council Tax bill, so people's bills will be going up whatever Basildon does but I think it is right that we do our bit to ensure that we are running an efficient council and that we do not contribute excessively to the tax burden on you as residents.
"I warmly welcome the £400,000 that has been allocated to fund new Community Safety Wardens, to act in tandem with our park wardens and the local police to boost enforcement, tackle fly-tipping and disrupt illegal activity across the Borough, including here in Billericay."
So, I welcome the freeze in the Basildon precept - one of only two district-level authorities that has been able do this. It is a testament to Stuart's great stewardship of this Borough’s finances that we are in that position, notwithstanding the confident predictions of the Labour Party and various social media 'talking heads' (and ex-Leaders), who were claiming that we would be putting Council Tax up by 4% or more.
That said, I think it is entirely right that, in making a balanced judgement between the opportunity to potentially cut tax and reacting to the priorities of our residents, this Administration has listened to residents’ concerns and is investing accordingly. Councillor Sullivan was very clear that it might actually have been possible to cut Council Tax but not if we want to tackle some of the thorny issues that residents are looking to us to solve.
Since I was first elected as a Councillor for Billericay East nearly nine years ago, constituents have been contacting me with concerns around crime, anti-social behaviour, and increasingly brazen drug-dealing on our streets. It is easy to pass the buck, say it’s nothing to do with me, refer people to the Police, but I serve as part of a Conservative Administration that will always take action to uphold law and order and promote public safety in this Borough. To that end, I warmly welcome the £400,000 that has been allocated to fund new Community Safety Wardens, to act in tandem with our park wardens and the local police to boost enforcement, tackle fly-tipping and disrupt illegal activity across the Borough, including here in Billericay.
"In addition to the extra enforcement budget, we are going to be putting in significant investment in Billericay’s open spaces, including the Outwood Common Open Space in my ward."
The work of these new wardens should dovetail nicely with the Safe & Sound Programme for estate improvements that I have piloted through the Housing and Estate Renewal Committee, which have already seen improvements carried out by our Pride Teams on a number of our estates, including the Outwood Common Estate in Billericay East and Rosebay Avenue in Billericay West.
In addition to the extra enforcement budget, we are going to be putting in significant investment in Billericay’s open spaces, including the Outwood Common Open Space in my ward. We will be providing a new skate park for Lake Meadows and more improvements to the facilities at Hannakins Farm.
The investment in the High Street public realm improvements, which was cancelled by the previous Administration, has been restored, so that work can now be undertaken. All told, there is about £350,000 of additional investment coming into Billericay. We have also tried to help our High Street retailers by freezing car park charges in the Council-owned car parks behind Iceland at at Radford Way.
"All told, there is about £350,000 of additional investment coming into Billericay."
In addition to the £80,000 that has been specifically set aside to provide more parking at South Green shops, we are also investing £2.7m in developing a comprehensive Car Parking Strategy to try and address the growing problem of lack of parking on some of our older estates and I am lobbying my colleague, Cllr. Craig Rimmer (Con., Pitsea South-East), Chairman of the Leisure & Environment Committee, to try and make sure that the Outwood Common Estate is looked at early doors.
Sadly, other parties have always treated Billericay as a cash cow, but don’t think that we deserve any improvements to our facilities or need any investment in the fabric of our community assets. I am proud to belong to a party that does not begrudge other parts of the Borough their fair share of investment but fundamentally believes that ALL parts of the Borough deserve a fair crack of the whip, including Billericay. Our budget delivers investment where it is needed, not simply where our political prejudices dictate.
This is a Budget that Builds Back Better in Billericay and I hope that residents will see the benefits of having a well-run Conservative council.