Letter to Editor: Labour’s lack of vision is clear for all to see

Politics / Mon 26th Feb 2024 at 04:49pm

Dear Editor,

IT appears the only reason Labour opposed the Conservative budget last week is something which may occur over the next four years. Presumably they approved of all the other elements of our Council Tax plans.

Would now be a good time to remind Cllr Vince of what actually occurred when his party set their budget in February 2008, leaving a mess for us when we took control a few months later.

His party set a budget which included a Savings Target of £2,742,000, which included £207K of redundancy costs.  In today’s money that would be £4.2M.

Even that target of £2,742K didn’t include the raid on reserves to steal £270K from the Church Langley Environment Fund, in addition to the £120K stolen the previous year (2007-8).  This was a fund left by the Church Langley developers specifically for Church Langley ward and no other purpose. The Conservatives replaced all of it the following year.

The £2.742K comprised £889K ‘Unspecified Efficiency savings’ (cuts), £1,125K ‘Service Adjustments’ (cuts) and £535K Increased Income (wishful thinking).  The ambitious income figure included £10K from charging to use the swimming pool car park. Labour closed the pool itself in 2007, fortuitously saving £399K per annum. The proposed fee for the car park was £1 per visit. Not harmful you may think, but only a handful of cars ever used it and there was never the remotest chance of achieving that level of income, which shows how desperate they were.

Another sign of their desperation was pushing back the tax setting council to the last possible moment and even then, the budget papers for the Policy and Resources Committee only arrived four days before the meeting! This left us very little time to prepare an alternative, which we did of course, and would have reduced the increase in Council Tax from 2.99% to 1.99%.

The year before (2007/8) was not a great deal better, with a £1.8M shortfall and mini budgets throughout the year to fill in the black hole.

Cllr Vince has conveniently overlooked that in this year’s budget there is growth and investment across the board – and no cuts.

If you want a party with the vision and skills to improve the town centre, invest in regenerating and improving the appearance of the town, then vote Conservative in May.

Yours sincerely

Simon Carter (Cllr)

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15 Comments for Letter to Editor: Labour’s lack of vision is clear for all to see:

Bruce Downey
2024-02-26 17:09:42

I agree Labour is a busted flush. C.L.. no surprise there it is your home turf.

gary roberts
2024-02-26 17:18:19

I was told once by a Conservative councillor that Harlow council would save over £1m by closing just two neighbourhood offices: Potter Street and Old Harlow following a council working group on the issue. I asked for a break down of that figure and am still waiting. Therefore producing a smoke and mirrors budget just before the Conservatives are tested in a full local election in May is obviously a concern. Would you vote for them? I hope not.

James Leppard
2024-02-26 18:10:40

Dear Gary Roberts, I think most people of sound mind would be wary of voting for a Chris Vince led administration. They were negligent in the extreme in failing to present an alternative budget. Not even the pretence of smoke and mirrors, just a complete impenetrable fog. They voted unanimously against the Council Tax Support Scheme for 6,000 vulnerable residents. For your information, the Budget presented and approved last week is fully funded, sound, balanced and signed- off as such by the Chief Financial Officer and statutory Sect. 151 Officer. Yes, I agree that the prospect of a Labour led Council with their total lack of any financial or commercial acumen must be a genuine concern to residents and our partner organisations.

Gary Roberts
2024-02-26 18:56:59

Cllr. Leppard, always good hear your views on such an important issue as a council budget. That I have no confidence in it is just another resident who doesn't understand how it works in your mind. Just like I wouldn't understand how much Osler House would/could be sold for so we won't tell him or the Potter Street residents. Sadly for you I would. Please do not underestimate me or the residents of my community because politicians that do that may not get their vote come May.

James Leppard
2024-02-26 19:22:45

Dear Mr Roberts, I never underestimated you or your capacity regarding the Budget, which is now set out in the most complete, comprehensible and transparent format ever produced by a Harlow Council. All I am saying is that it is difficult to scrutinise or question the Labour opposition on their Budget or to make any comparison as they do not have one and they also have no plans for Harlow. If they did, they would be set out in their alternative budget, so they clearly don't.

Peter Henegan
2024-02-26 19:48:05

This is all a big puzzle! At national level when the chancellor presents his budget , whilst the opposition criticise they don't, as far as I can tell, present an alternative budget. So why is this done at local level? I would hazard a guess that the conservative budget was fully agreed in private so the vote was a formality. So is the lack of a labour budget really an issue? Should labour win in May, perhaps someone can tell me, please, do they have to work to the tory budget or can they present their own budget. Is the budget a legally binding document or merely a plan. Mr Carter, I see that you are a councillor for Church Langley. Have you taken a walk along the cycle track between Church Langley Way and Kiln Way. The ditch alongside is full of rubbish. There was even a bundle of what looked like Harlow Stars which finished some years ago. Why has this not been cleared. No doubt you will be reading the comments to your letter. And no doubt Labour will be giving a proper explanation for their actions.

gary roberts
2024-02-27 07:00:18

Cllr. Leppard, you don't have to scrutinize any other political parties' budget. All you have to do is justify the Conservative budget to the residents' of this town. They are not interested in you or your colleagues trying to play politics on such an important issue. They currently have more pressing issues such as how to pay their bills, feed and cloth their family, and heat their home.

Tony Edwards
2024-02-27 08:05:26

So Simon - how will the town pay for this alleged growth and investment next year and the year after when your own Conservative budget projects a £2.9 million shortfall in the revenue budget next year and £3.6 million and £4.27 million in 26/27 and 27/28. LIVE NOW - PAY LATER? That will be the inheritance you will leave for the next administration, irrespective of their political persuasion. Thanks a bunch.

James Leppard
2024-02-27 08:49:16

Dear Tony, your questions were fully addressed during Cabinet. Furthermore, we also showed that previous Labour budgets consistently showed Budget gaps in future years. It is the nature of the beast. Forecasts are deliberately conservative/tending towards a worst case as many factors affecting revenues are unknown at the time of preparing the forecasts, e.g. government funding settlements, New Homes Bonus, future tax revenues and business rates, Collection Account, etc, etc. In our short period in office, we have predicted shortfalls each future year, yet have always reached a balanced budget duly signed by the Section 151 officer. But why am I telling you this? You have been a councillor for many years. If you genuinely don't understand the finances, Harlow has a very serious problem with the prospect of Harlow Labour running the Council

James Leppard
2024-02-27 09:23:02

Gary Roberts, if you interested in the Budget and Medium-Term Financial Plan, please go to the following link, particularly Appendix A. Happy to answer any specific questions you might have relating to these documents. https://moderngov.harlow.gov.uk/documents/b6399/Supplementary%20Agenda%201%2022nd-Feb-2024%2019.30%20Council.pdf?T=9

peter henegan
2024-02-27 13:45:10

James Leppard (or anybody), are you able to answer the questions I raised, above, please. They are not political, merely me attempting to add to my knowledge. Thanks

Tony Edwards
2024-02-27 14:37:32

James, you are ignoring the fact that the projected revenue shortfalls are significantly higher than in previous budgets and are rising. And given that the budget briefing states "there is a significant degree of uncertainty ....... which could have significant impact on the key assumptions" ( and bullet points 22 factors that could have a material effect on the financial position of the Council). It is not an unreasonable question to ask how as the administration responsible for setting this budget you plan to fulfil your legal responsibilities to set a balanced budget in 25/26. £2.9 million revenue shortfall is not an insignificant amount of money. From your statements so far - you seem to be deliberately adopting the Wilkins Micawber approach of "something is bound to turn up".

James Leppard
2024-02-27 18:48:07

Peter Henegan, I submitted a reply to your last post but for some reason it has not been published. Please send me your email and I shall be happy to reply.

James Leppard
2024-02-27 19:36:21

Tony, your leader was waxing lyrical about a previously reported Budget gap of £1.7 m for 2024/25 which had he bothered to actually read the next two pages of the report showed that it had already been covered. The £1.7 m was reported ahead of the final Collection Account balance and Government funding settlement that were unknown at the time of original publication. For next year these same factors will apply, in addition revenue from the Harvey Centre is far better than the most optimistic forecasts, HTS will generate a much better result than previous years thanks to new management and business plan introduced by this administration. If I were you, I would be more concerned as to how you and your colleagues can justify to residents your unanimous vote last week to scrap Council Tax Support to 6,000 of our most vulnerable residents. Fortunately for them, you were outvoted by the Conservative administration councillors.

Tom Compton
2024-02-28 17:20:02

I am traditionally a Labour voter and probably will still vote that way in the General Election, but when it comes to our Harlow, I am so impressed with the current Conservative Council. They have tried to improve the town centre, manage finances far more professionally and even managed a Council Tax cut. They are not perfect and there is still a steep hill to climb, but they are trying to make Harlow better. The Labour opposition at Council level appear to oppose everything, propose nothing and put their egos before Harlow people. We need a change of Government at National level and after 14 years of weak council in Harlow, Conservatives offered us a change at local level. I think James Leppard's responses are clear, professional and transparent. People may not agree but at least he is answering, unlike Labour who are not even preparing.

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