Labour in Southampton has worked hard since 2012 to balance the books - despite savage cuts, as Southampton now receives £84.7m less General funding than five years ago. Simultaneously, we have attracted businesses - and cut unemployment rates in half – and kept vital services running such as children’s safeguarding, adult health and social care, road maintenance and bin collections.
To bust a few myths: we could have refused to set a budget, and then central government would have stepped in and set one for us, with little regard for local priorities. To those who say that would have been better, I disagree, and believe that Labour councillors have ensured that whilst difficult cuts were made, we have listened to residents and tried to protect services that are ‘economically unimportant’ but socially vital.
As for reserves, whilst Hampshire County Council has hundreds of millions, we do not. We have used reserves,and will do so this year, but there is no money ‘for a rainy day’, the deluge arrived with the Con-Dem coalition in 2010.
Despite our efforts, we know the people of Southampton are being hit by Conservative policies. We face huge calls in adult social care, and George Osborne has proposed that local government can raise more funds to pay for this with an increased 2% council tax levy for Adult Social Care. In Southampton the number of over 65’s will increase 19% from 2014 by 2021, and vulnerable people need help. We will therefore introduce Osborne’s Social Care Tax to contribute towards some of these costs.
However, as this hits people’s pockets by c. £25 per year we will not, as we could, also increase Council Tax by 1.99%. We think many councils in Hampshire will, but thanks to careful stewardship, we can call on reserves this year to save further hardship to Southampton taxpayers.
Difficult decisions will continue to have to be made - and who knows what central government will impose next? - but Southampton Labour is fighting to balance the needs of the vulnerable with the overall population, and to ensure money stays in the hands of struggling families.