Cllrs. Keith Bentley and Ian Roberts attended the meeting where the main item on the agenda was the Council's Budget for 2023/4. Up for discussion were 2 amendments.
The minutes can be found at: Council Minutes. There is also a link to the live broadcast of the meeting should residents wish to watch it.
Street cleaning service
The first amendment was proposed by Councillor Bentley and seconded by Councillor Roberts. It was a modest request for an increase in the street cleaning team by one operative (£38,000 from unearmarked reserves) and a leased EV van (£35,000 from the capital asset programme) in order to carry out more street cleaning around the district. We put forward a similar amendment last year, but it was rejected and the LibDems did not take up the proposal during the year. As it turned out there had already been an extra allocation of £22,000 to street cleaning, so our request for £38,000 was immediately reduced to £16,000. Even then, and in spite of a long list of arguments for increasing the service given by Councillor Bentley, the amendment was rejected by the LibDem administration. We were fully supported by the Conservatives and other Independent Councillors but it was not enough to get it through. We got the impression that the LibDems had little interest in keeping the streets around the district clean and that it was well down their list of priorities for the year ahead. Looking at their budget they are spending a heck of a lot more than £16,000 on a number of other priority services. We have not completely lost hope since we will be given the chance to resurrect this amendment once again in the mid-year financial review.
On a more optimistic note, we asked if the street cleaning contract in South Woodham Ferrers Town Centre could be reviewed for quality and efficiency with a view to bringing it back in-house. The contract still has another 2 years to run, but we have been dismayed at the poor standard of work. Last year's Remembrance Day event was blighted by litter and most weeks the quality of service is similarly disappointing. Cllr. Davidson did give assurances that they would commit to carry out the review.
Highways Rangers funding
The second amendment was brought by the Conservatives and concerned the funding for the Highways Rangers (a sum of about £90,000 for Chelmsford district) which Essex County Council (ECC) had decided to stop funding. The Conservatives proposed that funding for this service could be found by freezing councillor allowances with the rest coming via a more optimistic income forecast from the new theatre. The LibDems voted against this amendment, too, on the grounds that the Highways Rangers were carrying out a role for ECC who are the responsible authority and so should be paid for by ECC. It was mentioned that 3 Conservatives, also members of ECC, voted against the LibDem amendment to the ECC budget which called for a continuation of the Highways Rangers, financed by ECC. Our councillors voted for the amendment on the basis that if we lose the Highways Rangers our district will be losing another important service for the sake of a comparatively small amount of money.
The budget for 2023/4
The budget itself was voted through and we felt no need to oppose it, but we were concerned at the LibDem's unnecessary inflexibility over the amendments, which would have had very little or no impact on the Council's finances going forward.