Ashtead’s Independent Councillors challenged the Council budget for the next financial year at its meeting on February 22nd.
The Ashtead Independents felt that while finances are difficult for the Council due to the impact of COVID-19, the proposals lacked the emphasis that should be given to issues related to climate change and protection of our environment.
Councillor Hawksworth, seconded by Councillor Harper, put forward a formal amendment to make some savings in order to fund some activities of particular concern. No other Groups had submitted any alternative costed proposals.
They proposed savings from staff costs to reflect the time between recruiting and making appointing recruitment, reduced spending on consultants (£250K was in the budget), paring down the Civic budget, and not having any increase in Members’ Allowances.
Those savings would have allowed the Small Community Grants Scheme which was due to be axed for the year to be retained, a much-needed Tree Health and Safety Officer to work with the Tree and Countryside Officer, progress immediately the installation of the electric charging points in Ashtead Peace Memorial Car Park, and delay but extend the scope of planned consultancy work on the future of Council’s properties in Dorking.
The package of proposals, which had been verified as feasible by the Council’s Responsible Finance Officer, was supported by 8 votes, but with 22 against and 10 abstentions.
The failure not to strengthen the tree safety situation we find particularly deplorable in view of the damage caused by the February storms and the poor state of so many trees.
Councillor Hawksworth requested and obtained a separate vote on Members’ Allowances, but 20 were sadly determined not to forgo an increase, while 10 were content to manage without that and 10 abstained.
Councillor Harper summed by saying that Small Community Grants put the Council at the heart of supporting the community, but withdrawing them while awarding councillors pay rises, sent out the message that the people running the Council were now more important than the communities they are meant to serve. The voting on the councillor allowances was
20 in favour of increasing (all Lib Dems)
10 against (all the Ashtead Independents and 4 conservatives) [previously said 2 conservatives]
10 abstain (the rest of the conservatives and 2 Lib Dems)
Finally, due to hybrid working, with most staff only using the office 40% of the time, the extended consultant study the AI’s proposed, would include a new build smaller council building, enabling redevelopment of Pippbrook and a capital receipt, which will be needed for the refurbishment of the leisure centres- which are a looming cost the LD administration have not identified and will not be able to afford without risky borrowing.