Labour Budget Statement 2019
In commenting on the budget, I want to make a separation between the work undertaken by officers and the political framing of the budget by the administration. So first- Please may I acknowledge to the officers the hard work, the professionalism and the probity with which they have undertaken their duties in producing a balanced budget? Thank you.
To the administration, I say, this budget is fragile, without ambition, without vision and while it may be deliverable, it does nothing to ensure the longer-term sustainability, or the regeneration of this town. We cannot vote for it because you are allocating £50,000 of our money to the county and £500,000 of our money to progress a government agenda- a Unitary West Northamptonshire, that we disagree with. We cannot support the plan to raise car parking fees while putting up Council Tax. It should be one or the other.
I say to you, that given you have capitulated to government over unitary, the one thing that you should be thinking of is the legacy you are leaving for West Northamptonshire to build on.
What is it? The tents of the homeless in our parks, our churchyards, our high streets? Empty shops and children with empty bellies. Nearly 400 children living in temporary accommodation. Family housing being turned into get rich quick HIMOs. Families left at the mercy of unregulated private sector rents? The working poor, increasingly relying on food banks? Car parking fees that further drive down the town centre footfall? Enforcement officers that prey on the vulnerable and make the town centre a hostile environment? Estates where there are high needs and no services? A long-term expensive waste collection service, that is already going off the boil?
Northampton Forward is a laudable ambition but too little and too late.
Labour is not producing an alternative budget because there is no money. And there is no time to institute the radical change that we would like to see.
But I would like to give you a flavour of the labour vision for Northampton that we have been articulating for many years now and which, if you had acted on would have put us in much stronger position with a much more positive legacy.
First, the local economy. A low wage base creates welfare dependency, keeps expectations low and reduces the amount of money households have to spend in the town. Our plea to you to become an accredited Living Wage authority was about addressing this issue. As a major and influential employer, we wanted NBC to fly the flag and set the example for others in the town. To use our commissioning power and our consumer power as leverage to encourage other employers to follow our example. You have failed to do that. Zero hours working, under employment, casualised labour that is what is killing off this town.
We also asked you to become more entrepreneurial, to stop following markets and to start shaping them. It is a disgrace that NBC do not own our own town centre. We needed to have become a place shaping authority that invested to generate income. That invested to save. Instead we sell off Fish Street, sell off buildings in Guildhall Road, propose to sell off all our corner shops, abandon our critical areas of the town to private enterprise. Added to that and hanging over everything is of course the debacle that is Sixfields. To lose £10.25 million through an unsecured loan, with dubious partners is unforgiveable, and we all look forward, I have no doubt, to the day of reckoning on that one. What is unfathomable is that we then spend more of the tax payers’ money chasing recovery before the police have reported and before prosecutions have taken place. It’s called throwing good money after bad.
We have argued that the waste depot be relocated, that NPH be transferred to Horizon House, that Westbridge be developed by us, into rentable light industrial units- much needed I am told, by the Chamber of Commerce; with us putting in a money-making shared service scheme. Ignored! Again!
It is still a brilliant idea. I gift it to you.
Second. Building Community Resilience and Social Capital. We have argued loud and strong for resources for the community and voluntary sector. For local area working. For partnerships that co design and co deliver services. For preventative work where we use, with partners, social prescription to alleviate social isolation and encourage more engagement and self- help. You have ignored us and continued in the same old paternalistic way.
In doing that you have soured the relationship between the Borough and many of our present and potential partners. As a group, Labour has always taken our role in opposition seriously. It has not been our style to sit and bellyache. To criticise without reflecting alternatives. We have made it our mission to keep up with what is going on in other authorities. To do our research. To learn what best practice looks like. We have given you lots of workable ideas. We looked to you for good leadership. You have failed in that. Working with partners is not about abrogating leadership. It is about leadership. Being strong enough, confident enough to facilitate, support, make happen.
Let me give you a current example of what I mean. It was Labour that called a special council meeting to support NTFC. That meeting was clearly important in winning back the trust of the supporters of the club. But what has happened since then? The Supporters have ideas, ambitions, commitment to develop and strengthen the club. They are worried about a hostile takeover. They need our help to realise their ambition. Why are we putting obstacles in the way of their nomination for an Asset of Community Value for the Stadium, the carpark and the athletics track? The supporters club is an example of community engagement, of the building of social capital. Their efforts need to be applauded and supported.
Third, Regenerating the Town Centre
We need to do something to integrate the Waterside and the Town Centre. We have argued that the stretch of road from Cheyne Walk to Carlsberg should become a raised dual use road that gives priority to pedestrians. Traffic flow would be uninterrupted but slowed down. It works in major cities. It can work here. We have further argued that we should support the university and the Buddies of Becketts park in realising the ambition to create a well- being park. Wouldn’t it be great to have hospital patients and staff, local residents and students sharing well- being facilities?
I have suggested before that we take the example from Newcastle and look to making parts of the Night time economy family friendly- breaking down ghettos, encouraging more footfall.
We need to make the town centre more family friendly. We need to end the dominance of betting shops, pawn brokers, pay day loan shops, Poundlands. They need to be replaced with facilities that encourage families in. More leisure, more bijou retail outlets, a more vibrant, more diverse market.
One brilliant idea, that came from the previous CEO of the Derngate, was the idea of a town centre Campus School. We need more school places in Northampton. A Town Centre school would definitely bring in families, increase footfall, change the nature and feel of the town. It would be truly transformative. It is an idea worth exploring. It is ideas like this and all the others I have mentioned, that we need, to breathe new life into the town.
The campaign run by the BBC to Love Northampton has been great. A change of attitude, a change of culture is important. But we also need big structural changes led by you- by the town’s representatives. You need to be bigger and bolder. This budget does not cut the mustard.