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Voice of the Opposition
Cllr Adrian Gulvin writes on red routes, Medway Council finances, and Labour's plans for Medway
Editor’s note: Every quarter, we publish exclusive columns from Medway Council Leader Vince Maple and Conservative Leader of the Opposition Adrian Gulvin. Today, we welcome Adrian Gulvin’s column, and we’ll be publishing Vince Maple’s piece tomorrow.
Voice of the Opposition
by Cllr Adrian Gulvin, Conservative Leader of the Opposition at Medway Council
It has been very disappointing that despite claiming that the new administration would be listening to the people of Medway, the Labour council has totally ignored the people of Rainham and will be implementing the red route there, despite local residents, local traders and the Conservative Group asking them to reconsider the decision. In the consultation, 64% of respondents said no to the red route in Rainham, the consultation in Rainham had a far higher number of people taking part than all the others put together. If we win back control of the Council in 2027, the Conservatives are pledged to revoke the scheme, which is all about extracting money from motorists, not road safety or environmental concerns.
It was interesting to compare the report on red routes that was part of the budget-building process for 2023/24, which had a table in it stating that over the five years funding of the project, it was estimated that a £1.1m profit would be made, with the paper that went to Cabinet, and hence into the public domain, which did not have that table. Labour hid this away from the public so that they could claim environmental and road safety issues were the reasons, when the truth was that it’s all about making money.
It was also disappointing, that despite an unprecedented letter from the council’s Monitoring Officer, asking for better behaviour from members at full council, the Labour Group indulged in applause and cheering in a most undignified manner, although this was surpassed by Cllr Mrs Murry shouting at a member to “shut your gob”.
A lot of the items going to full council are Conservative ones still going through the system. Though that did not stop Cllr Osborne trying to claim credit for the Public Space Protection Orders to prevent nuisance vehicles, although they were started by the Community Safety Partnership long before he was involved with it.
One Labour idea that we are now happy to support, is changing back to a points system for appointing new Mayors. The authority had used this system since its inception until a Labour Mayor used the position to speak ill of the then Conservative council. To prevent this happening again, the points system was removed. Many in the Conservative Group felt that changing back to the points system was long overdue.
I was also pleased that the Labour Group accepted my motion to rethink the withdrawal of support for the Lordswood and Walderslade litter picking group. Hopefully, we can now come up with an arrangement that works for both the litter picking group and the Council.
One item at the full council we are not so happy about is the new Outdoor Events Fees and Charging Policy. This has resulted in an over bureaucratic and complicated system, that will make it difficult and more expensive for smaller organisations to run events here in Medway. Larger organisations will have the resources to jump through the hoops and have environmental and safety policies on the shelf ready to use, this will be much more difficult for many small organisations and charities.
Another thing that we fundamentally disagree with, is Labour’s claim that the council’s Government Support Grant has been reduced by 91% since 2011. Whilst arithmetically correct, as one was taught at primary school when starting algebra, you must not muddle up your apples and pears. The facts are that in April 2013, the government introduced the business rates retention scheme, and reformed the way local government is funded. From that time the council kept 49% of the business rates (1% went to Kent Fire and Rescue Authority and the Government kept the other 50%). In 2013 this gave the Council £44.4m, this year that has gone up to £50m. In the same period, the income from Council Tax has increased from £101.5m to £149.1m.
There are also other government grants that were not available in 2011. In fact, since 2011 core spending power has increased from £183.1m to £243.9m in 2023.
“The Capital Strategy is a key document for the Council and forms part of the authority’s financial planning arrangements alongside our Treasury Strategy, Medium Term Financial Outlook and annual capital and revenue budgets.
The Capital Strategy sets out how investment in both new and existing infrastructure and assets is prioritised to support the delivery of the Council’s priorities as set out in the Council Plan and supporting policy framework.
It also provides an overview of how associated risk is managed and the implications for the future financial sustainability of the Council.”
So, this is a very important document, setting out the Council’s plans for the future. It is 37 pages long, and in those 37 pages, I can only find 4 items that are the ideas of the new Labour administration and one of those is just extra funding for a Conservative project. All the rest are works in progress from the previous Conservative administration. The new ideas are the Local Walking and Cycling Infrastructure Plan, the School Place Planning Strategy, the replacement of waste collection and street cleansing vehicles ( which would have had to be done anyway), and the extra funding for the Brook Theatre ( which would have had to be done anyway).
So, after five months of Labour in power, we still do not know what their big ideas are for Medway.
Cllr Adrian Gulvin is the Leader of the Opposition at Medway Council and Conservative councillor for Lordswood and Walderslade.