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Letter to Editor: Harlow Tories and the budget: The Harvey Centre is not a magic money tree

News / Mon 4th Mar 2024 at 12:26pm

Dear Editor,

IF it were not such a serious subject, it would have been entertaining to read the spin put on Harlow Council’s budget by Cllr’s Leppard, Swords et al.

The fact remains however that this is an irresponsible budget passed by the Conservative administration as it fails to address the issue of a projected £10.8 million revenue budget shortfall.

For the financial year 25/26 it is projected to be £2,925,000, for 26/27 £3,608,000 and 27/28 £4,268,000. and it is growing year on year, when by law a Council must balance the revenue budget.

The Tory’s have balanced the revenue budget for 24/25 but have included nothing to show how they plan to deal with future budget shortfalls. Indeed, from his statements Cllr Leppard seems to be adopting the Wilkins Micawber approach to economics of “something is bound to turn up”. 

And don’t be misled by Cllr Swords suggestion in Your Harlow that they can somehow use money from the Harvey Centre to keep Council Tax down in future. They can’t as according to the rules any money from this scheme can only be used for either regeneration purposes or for paying off the debt from the purchase of the Harvey Centre. 

Indeed, according to those rules “any surplus realised would be ring-fenced to support the future redevelopment of parts of the Harvey Centre, provide security against future income risks and provide a specific Earmarked Reserve for the wider regeneration of Harlow.” 

The Harvey Centre is not a “Magic Money Tree”. 

Equally, do not be misled by spurious arguments that because the Labour Party opposed the budget, they put the setting of a budget at risk. They did not, the duty of an opposition is to oppose.

In the unlikely event of the Conservatives not being able to pass their budget at the first attempt, they would have had to gone away and come back with a revised budget. That is why I for one voted against the budget in the vain hope that the Tories as the current administration would have had a rethink and would have come back with a more responsible budget. They did not and the next administration and Harlow residents will have to struggle with the consequences!

The Labour Party, if elected to be the administration in May, will however ensure that future budgets are balanced (as is required by law) and that the Council’s services are maintained and improved for the good of the town and its residents. 

For the forthcoming financial year, the budget has now been set and we will work within its broad parameters.

As a Labour administration, we will however review each of the departmental budgets in turn. We will lobby the Government for a fair grant support settlement, and we will ensure that going forward the Council’s services are funded in a sustainable and responsible way.

Regards

Cllr Tony Edwards

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24 Comments for Letter to Editor: Harlow Tories and the budget: The Harvey Centre is not a magic money tree:

Alex
2024-03-04 14:13:43

Why didn't Labour present an alternative Budget to set out their plan for Harlow? Maybe they haven't got one. It is absolutely unprecedented for the Opposition not to present an alternative. Councillor Edwards glibly saying that the role of the Opposition is to oppose, well he should that he and his Labour colleagues voted unanimously to oppose the Council Tax Support Scheme for the town's most vulnerable residents; opposing a scheme they were the authors of some years ago! It is truly unbelievable the levels of incompetence of Harlow Labour.

Dan
2024-03-04 14:20:54

The rate the shops are closing in the Harvey centre makes me wonder if it will even keep its doors open much longer. I can just that being turned into housing for the layabouts to move into.

Dan Swords
2024-03-04 14:49:29

Just complete nonsense which shows why they are unfit to run the council. I would be more than happy to answer each of his points in detail and explain to him the basics of Local Government finance.

Not a tories sheep
2024-03-04 14:52:10

Alex, because they didn't need to, maybe unprecedented but so too will be the tories losses in the next election. Labour or any other party for that matter could and will beat them without even trying. I see you have nothing to say about the budget not balancing? I find that a bit strange. On Wednesday when the national spring budget is announced, does the opposition put forward an "alternative budget" or is it only at a local level you deem it to be so important? When it really isn't.

Alex
2024-03-04 15:00:54

Not for Tories. You didn't read the article! The budget did balance and the whole package was signed off by the section 151 Officer. It is normal the Medium Term Plan to show a shortfall. It is NOT a Budget, who Cllr Edwards should know! All Labour's previous Medium Term plans also showed shortfalls. Why, because as explained to Cllr Edwards that so many revenue factors :Government Funding Settlement and collection account, etc are only known in year. You apparently have an understanding not dissimilar to Cllr Edwards!!! The Budget is for 2024/25 the others are 'incomplete' projections. Cllr Edwards, as is customary with Harlow Labour is spouting nonsense.

Allan Michaelson
2024-03-04 15:06:20

Cllr Edwards and Harlow Labour voted against their own Council Tax Support Scheme for the most disadvantaged residents. That is truly shameful. They are a total disgrace as well as complete half wits!

David Forman
2024-03-04 16:09:09

This is what the Medium Term Financial Plan actually says about budget gaps: "There are a range of approaches to balancing the budget. Broadly speaking these fall into the following categories: • Growth and development opportunities within the District; • Service Efficiency Reviews; • Improved asset management; • Review of central activities such as treasury management; • Reviewing our policies around things such as Council Tax and use of reserves; and • Understanding our capital spend needs and how best to meet the cost of these. The council is actively looking at how the budget gap can be addressed for future years following the balanced budget for 2024/25. See page 52 of the following link: https://moderngov.harlow.gov.uk/documents/b6399/Supplementary%20Agenda%201%2022nd-Feb-2024%2019.30%20Council.pdf?T=9

Eddie
2024-03-04 16:14:59

Allen Michaelson. Do you think half wits is being too generous. 😉

David Forman
2024-03-04 16:16:59

Part of the problem for forecasting budgets and any gaps is the single year finance settlements by central government. However, the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) identifed all these issues as: "There are a number of key issues which could impact on the plans set out in Appendix A over the 4-year planning period including: a) The medium-term economic impacts which continue to impact the council, particularly in respect of reduced income, following Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis. b) The uncertainty regarding the Government’s intentions regarding public sector funding, which has again seen just a one-year financial settlement, and an absence of any longer-term indications to provide clarity for planning purposes; c) Potential inflationary pressures expected in 2024/25 and the possibilities of future interest rate rises impacting on future debt financing costs; and d) Any further Government interventions in rent setting policy in the future; e) Any changes to capital financing and investment regulations that may be implemented prior to or post budget setting. See page 9 of https://moderngov.harlow.gov.uk/documents/b6399/Supplementary%20Agenda%201%2022nd-Feb-2024%2019.30%20Council.pdf?T=9

David Vincent
2024-03-04 16:24:43

Incidentally, councillor James Leppard has done a marvellous job of laying out the MTFP in a new easy to read format. Obviously, it was not easy enough for the Labour Group of councillors to grasp the essentials of the budget!

Cliff Moore
2024-03-04 16:49:25

Magic money tree? From all the funding streams that have been announced over the last few years it seems a magic mountain fountain has been discovered in Harlow! I reckon I can only remember a few (they keep coming so often!) that you will excuse those that I miss I hope. Well there is promised a new hospital, a new arts quarter, £200 million (?) over (how many years?) towards Council Housing repair and building, all the roads to be pothole free, a flyover "by" pass for the A414, an almost total removal then rebuild of the Town Centre centre block , a replacement bus station for the Town Centre and the north of the Town Centre includes the fourth rebuild of Market Square, a bus lane from Southern Way to the Town Centre (no doubt to transport Uncle Tom Cobblery and all). Phew! Better vote in a Tory Council next election as it would be a shame if any of these projects were cut funding just for voting the wrong way!

Mark Gough
2024-03-04 19:42:07

What a sick joke! Any Labour Politician in this town telling the Electorate anyone about the Town's Finances is laughable! They just failed to produce an alternative budget. The years of increasing Council Tax year in year out. The criticism from Government Inspectors - not once - but twice. The front page headlines on the Harlow Star of "Shambolic" and "Shambolic 2" that everyone remembers. And on and on, financial failure after financial failure. God help our town if they get back!

James Leppard
2024-03-04 20:11:29

All points painstakingly set out by David Forman explain clearly why the MTFP (as opposed to the annual Budget) cannot be set with precision. Costs and pressures are far easier to identify than revenue: council tax, Government funding settlements , business rates, etc for reasons set out. Cllr Edwards should know this full well as the same scenario applies irrespective of which party is in power. The difference is that Labour has no plan. If they did they would have presented it. They didn't so they don't. Is it not laughably ironic that Cllr Edwards claims the administration is adopting the Wilkins Micawber approach to economics of “something is bound to turn up”? Remarkable! That is precisely what Chris stated for Harlow Labour: we have no plans, no alternative budget, don't have a clue what we are doing, but hey, vote for us and we will '"have a meeting with officers" and hope for the best. That is a really reassuring argument!!!! Shambolic.

Molly
2024-03-04 20:41:58

As Mark Gough says, we cannot afford to let Labour back into Administration. It would a total disaster for the town . Don't forget the mess the town in when they lost office. They were labelled "the worst Council in Essex" during COVID.

Rebecca
2024-03-04 21:10:56

Why does Harlow Labour even bother. Every time they open their mouths they put their foot in it. They embarrass themselves and show how unsuited and incapable they are of being entrusted with running the Council. We cannot have this lot back. It will be a massive setback for the Town.

Tom
2024-03-05 00:40:13

Harlow Labour obviously don't understand how local budgets work. They lost their best councillor when Mike Danvers retired. What is left are as thick as planks.

Tom Compton
2024-03-05 02:19:26

I think Labour really miss Mike Danvers. I remember a couple of years back, the excellent exchanges between him and Cllr Leppard at Budget. The debate was stimulating as both knew their stuff but had different perspectives and each argued passionately but with strong technical knowledge. Unfortunately, Labour has no one of his calibre. They don't do their homework and just seem to make it up as they go along. The quality has fallen a lot. Harlow Labour does not inspire confidence. The local Conservatives have a lot more vision and energy. I say this as a floating voter.

Nicholas Taylor
2024-03-05 09:17:04

Sticking to the subject of the Harvey Centre, one has to wonder why if things are so rosy it did not get snapped up when put up for sale. Since the Council purchased it, Wilkinson, the Job centre and the café opposite Iceland have shut up shop with the loss of a huge amount of rent to the Council.

Cllr James Leppard
2024-03-05 10:04:05

Well Nicholas, as stated at the time of acquisition, HDC and its highly experienced financial advisers Morgan Sindall, undertook extensive financial modelling and scenario analysis including interest rate variance, hedging options, footfall variables, occupancy and rental rates, energy costs, etc, etc. The final price was based upon one of the worst possible case scenarios with the whole upper floor permanently empty with rental yield. As has been shown in the Council's financial reports, performance is well exceeding forecasts, with these surpluses bolstering the regeneration reserves. Often facts are more compelling than unfounded assumptions and conjecture.

Nostradamus
2024-03-05 10:27:43

Bottom line, us residents are going to get a still worse deal on all fronts whichever party is elected because the Government has been literally "careless" . Eg Billions thrown at corrupt ppe contacts and just recently 26 billion thrown at the French for a nuclear power plant, Sizewell C, when already built units in France are failing to work and are 100s if not 1000s of times more costly than alternative energy. Meanwhile, the Harvey Centre, what part of emptying bins, maintaining services is running an investment portfolio? Local, amateur Councillors, voted in with no qualifications other than propaganda sheets from political parties have no business playing the property market from which Councils should be entirely banned. It's not a function local government that should be funded entirely by Council tax and from government. Period.

Nicholas Taylor
2024-03-05 12:19:29

James. Thanks for the information. Shame much of what is going on is buried in hundreds of pages of council reports. Your explanation is short and to the point.

Shame
2024-03-05 13:19:08

Cllr James Leppard, yes great to go with the worst-case scenario as the whole upper floor and maybe more will be permanently empty if you keep putting the rates up.

Allan
2024-03-05 20:45:57

Why does Labour in Harlow have no clear plans or policies other than soundbites and platitudes. I have seen that the Harlow Alliance Party have presented a much better case. They should put up more candidates. Labour is too lazy!

G
2024-03-09 13:58:25

Good afternoon Edward’s At lease mr Cllr Swords has put his plan down this plan will work if don’t spend nothing works just need time labour had got no plan this why they have to keep spending because when labour was in last did spent a lot

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