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Council Budget Shock as Wokingham Tories announce £4.2 Million Overspend

February 28, 2003 12:00 AM

Wokingham Conservatives have announced that they have overspent the Wokingham District Council budget by £4.2 million since July last year.

Councillor Alan Spratling (Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group) said, "I am shocked that the Tories have overspent the budget by such a huge amount, especially in view of their promises to work within the budget, make savings and produce a lower Council Tax increase. They have failed to deliver all of these.

"The Tories are calling this overspend a "budget deficiency" and blaming it on the Lib Dems. Make no mistake: this is a Tory overspend. The Tories have been in control of the Council since May last year and it's about time they started taking responsibility for their actions. I will not be blamed for the Tories' failure to deliver their election promises.

"This massive overspend dwarfs the previous year's overspend of £1.5 million. At that time, the Tories promised that they had put in all the processes necessary to make sure that an overspend would never happen again. They said that it was the responsibility of the administration to know the financial situation and that the Tories would never overspend because of their 'greater ability and incisive questioning'.

"This Tory overspend is a great blow to the residents of Wokingham district as it means the Tories will have to increase the Council Tax."

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Excerpts from speeches made by the Liberal Democrats:

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COUNCILLOR ALAN SPRATLING (Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group)

"I am shocked that the Tories have had the nerve to propose a Council Tax increase of 10%, producing a Council Tax of almost £1000 before Police and Parish precepts are added on. Considering the substantial government grant, which could not have been any bigger, I am surprised that the Council Tax increase is so much greater than the Lib Dems' managed.

It is quite clear that the Conservatives have failed completely to control the expenditure of this Council. To come to this Council and claim that there are total budget deficiencies of £4.224 million is merely spin. The reality is that this is a Conservative overspend of £4.224 million. This is quite a disgraceful admission by the Administration and clearly indicates the result of a hands-off approach.

Looking at the Budget figures that we have received, it is quite clear that the Conservative Administration has failed to curb spending, and the result is that £4.3 million has been overspent by the Tories since July.

The Capital Programme is another shambles. The school maintenance backlog has increased by £4 million since the Tories took control of the council. Next year's Capital Programme is slashed from £21 million to £15 million. The Tories response is to "sell off assets". What they don't say is that "assets" is "land", and the land will be sold for housing.

Frank Browne is reported in the press as saying that after today he will stop blaming the Liberal Democrats for the budget. As he has been in control of the Council since last May, isn't this a little late to start taking responsibility for his own actions? Instead of spending the year looking for scapegoats, I believe you should have got on with the job you were elected to do."

COUNCILLOR COLING LAWLEY (Deputy Leader of Lib Dem Group)

"Madame Chairman, we are selling our assets with undue haste to the first bidder. Do you know someone who wants a school caretaker's house or a school playing field somewhere?

I know where you can get one. But you'd better be quick - I know a developer who wants to build houses on the entire area.

Arguably, our best asset has already gone in the sale. Your decision to sell the lease for the Woodley Shopping Centre raises some capital, but this holding was a good, steady source of income for the Council and represents a half a percent increase in Council Tax for everyone, every year."

COUNCILLOR STEPHEN CONWAY (Chairman of the Lib Dem Group)

"A 9.7% rise in the Council Tax would be hard enough to accept in any circumstances, but it seems particularly difficult to justify in the context of the best ever financial contribution by central government - up to more than £9 million on last year. This should have meant a much lower rise in Council Tax than last year, not a much higher one.

Many of our residents are going to regard this 9.7% increase as totally unacceptable. Those in work face a rise in national Insurance in April, while our retired citizens are seeing their savings eroded and income falling. But they are also going to feel aggrieved because the Conservatives promised them the opposite - a lower rate of Council Tax increase, not a higher one."

COUNCILLOR DAVID HARE (Shadow Executive Member for Transport, Planning and the Environment)

"The Capital budget is to be slashed by the Tories - from £21 million to £15 million. At the moment the only way the Tories seem able to find Capital is to sell the Council's assets. Council assets means "land", and selling land means more houses being built in Wokingham district. Even as I speak I know that the disability access work, vital for disabled people and a Government target, has been delayed until we sell some council land to release some capital.

I have even heard that a charge has been proposed for allocating grave spaces to new owners. That means that if someone owns a grave space, dies and is buried, the new owner of that grave, probably the next of kin, has to pay a charge, at this painful time, to own that grave. I find that repulsive."

COUNCILLOR KAY GILDER (Shadow Executive Member for Community Services)

"Before the last election, the Tories promised to put more money into the Council's reserves. Little did we know that this would be done through the Woodley shopping Centre being sold off for over £4 million by an administration hell bent on selling off the Family Silver, and also the Southlake Infants School site being sold off to the highest bidder for housing (regardless of the views of the local people).

We the Liberal Democrats will do everything in our power to ensure that this Tory administration spends this substantial increase in government grant wisely and for the benefit of all the residents of Wokingham District."

COUNCILLOR BETH ROWLAND (Shadow Executive Member for Education)

"This is the difference between the Conservative controlled Council and the Liberal Democrat controlled Council: the average Tory Council Tax increase is 10.75%, whereas the average Liberal Democrat Council Tax increase is 6.485%. I am sure the residents will remember that the Tories increased the Council Tax by over 32% for the three years they were in control, and they will not forget this further increase of 10%."

COUNCILLOR JACK EARNSHAW (Lib Dem Councillor for Emmbrook ward)

"This budget reduces the amount of road repairs, charges extra for residents' permits, charges more for collection of bulky waste and blue garden sacks, and axes one planner. The Tories promised to cut bureaucracy and improve services: where are the bureaucracy cuts and increases in services? This is not a strategic change of direction, this is merely twiddling around the edges."