More council money should be put into housing, childcare and jobs, Liberal Democrat councillors have said, paid for by slashing Labour’s £9.3 million bill for cabs, catering and waste.

That was the key message in the opposition group’s alternative council budget, put forward at a Council Assembly meeting last night to decide the borough’s spending priorities. They also argued for a 1% council tax cut for all residents.

But to the astonishment of many present, Labour councillors voted to stop debate on the council’s 2014/15 budget early after being put under pressure about their own spending plans. In particular, they struggled to explain why they have not budgeted to offer parents free childcare hours – despite agreeing to a Liberal Democrat proposal last month to make funding available.

It has led to accusations that the Labour leadership is already reneging on its recent commitment to free childcare, and in disarray about its own policy priorities going into May’s local elections. No new ideas were put forward by the current administration – and the Labour leadership also seemed to be unclear about the basic details of its own policy on building new council homes.

Homes. Kids. Jobs. And a council tax cut.

Plans put forward by the Liberal Democrat Group would see the council’s £586,000 catering bill halved, a 10% reduction in the use of external consultants and lawyers, and a review of senior staff perks. It would also reduce the council’s ‘contingency’ budget from £4 million to £1 million, levering in £3 million of cash which is currently largely unused.

The money saved would be used to invest in a number of high profile council services, including £1.75 million to pay for Southwark Liberal Democrats’ flagship policy of free childcare hours for all 2, 3 and 4 year olds in the borough.

Another £137,000 would be put into additional housing officer posts, and £150,000 to help launch a new Jobs and Innovation Hub supporting local job hunters and small businesses.

Council tax will be cut by 1% next year according to the plans, paid for by increasing the borough’s below average collection rates to reduce the amount of the tax which currently goes unpaid. Further increases in the collection rate could lead to an extra bonus for council tax payers, Liberal Democrats have said.

Liberal Democrat councillors also pledged to overturn the Labour administration’s proposals to reduce funding for Children’s Centres and youth services, which are set to face over £700,000 of budget cuts.

The party’s alternative budget has been fully costed and signed off as “legal, balanced and implementable” by senior finance officers at Southwark Council. 

Leader of Southwark Liberal Democrats Cllr Anood Al-Samerai said:

“Labour councillors have shown they cannot be trusted with the council’s finances, racking up a £9.3 million bill for cab, catering and other waste. At the same time, they are cutting vital support for vulnerable people and taking money out of Children’s Centres, which seems really unfair.”

“A Liberal Democrat council would put homes, kids and jobs at the heart of our budget, putting money into childcare and housing officers rather than splashing it out on consultants and senior staff perks. We will also cut council tax to put money back into residents’ pockets and get better value for money.”

“Labour were on the back foot about their own spending plans, which is no doubt why they voted to shut down the debate on their own budget and stop any further speeches from Liberal Democrat councillors. It seems they don’t mind discussing things as long as nobody dares disagree with them.”

“It is very disappointing that the Labour-run council has reneged on its commitment to offering free childcare hours after barely a month. One Labour councillor even said it would not make a difference to local families, which shows just how out of touch they are.”

“The choice is clear: if you want a council which gets the basics right, works on the side of residents and gets value for money, vote for Liberal Democrats in May.”

The full list of spending commitments and savings put forward in Southwark Liberal Democrats’ alternative budget are available at: http://moderngov.southwarksites.com/documents/s44708/Amendment%20C%20-%20schedules.pdf

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