Budget – Labour Amendment 1
I am writing to you in regards to the above urgent matter.
It is regrettable that the amendment was voted through by Labour, the Conservatives and the Green Party councillors from Ashley ward. Cllr Olly Mead, who tabled the amendment, identified the permit cost as a tax in his opening remarks. He has now confirmed on Twitter that the amendment would divert money away from Residents’ Parking Zones (RPZs) to other non-transport related projects, such as a new recycling centre. Let us be clear that our group is absolutely in favour of building and running the South Bristol recycling centre and we have campaigned consistently against your decision to cancel it.
I note that during the meeting you voted against the amendment but then voted for the budget as a whole. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I were very vocal in our opposition to the amendment, which discriminates against those currently living in RPZ areas. Money raised via RPZs collection should be proportionate to the cost of administering the system and any profits should only be used to invest in improving public transport. This is why we voted against the amendment and why we voted against the budget as a whole. We rejected the principle of voting through a double tax bombshell on our residents – the confirmation that the parking tax that you raised on residents is a long term fixture and can only go up as it will be milked for non-transport schemes, in addition to the decision to increase council tax yet again.
Despite requests from councillors at the meeting to be the first to be informed about your intentions on what happens next with the budget, you have yet again taken to social media. On Twitter you have alleged “that RPZ funds would be spent on transport”. The amendment that was passed, and that you have signed off, channels RPZ funds to non-transport initiatives. Alas, many questions still remain unanswered:
- Promises were made by all parties when we introduced the first RPZ in Kingsdown (after residents were properly consulted and given the opportunity to reject it) that the scheme would not be used as a cash cow or an extra tax on local people. Explicit assurances were given at the time that the money the council received would only be used either to administer the scheme or improve public transport. These schemes were already on to track to repay the costs faster than projected and yet you chose to increase the permit costs for Kingsdown retroactively by 50%. To go back on those assurances seriously undermines any remaining good will towards your plans for further RPZ schemes. Why have you now broken the any goodwill that remains after your previous action by voting for the budget as a whole?
- The amendment sets in stone your decision to increase the RPZ permit cost even though there is no relationship between the permit price and the payback borrowing period for the scheme. Council officers confirmed at a Place Scrutiny Commission earlier this month that your decision to increase the permit costs was a ‘policy decision’. Why did you decide to increase the permit cost when there was no necessity for doing so?
- During the meeting there was absolute confusion from our legal officer. We have been repeatedly told by council officers that surpluses from the RPZ process can only be spent on transport and highways-related matters. During the budget meeting Cllr Kent also raised the Barnet Council judgement that ruled RPZs cannot make a profit except to cover operational costs. The high court ruling he referred to stated that councils must not charge residents for parking in order to raise surplus revenue for other transport purposes. Adjusting the RPZ Business Plan to create surpluses, and probably additional borrowing in order to fund something other than highways works, is therefore not allowed and so the carried Labour amendment is invalid. This may leave the council open to legal challenge. But if you agree the Labour amendment is not lawful, why did you vote for the budget as a whole during the meeting?
- I am aware that when an amended budget has been approved, you have until the end of the 24th February 2015 to consider the budget changes. Your alternative to accepting the budget as now amended (as you did so on the night), is to resubmit your original (unchanged) proposals or to submit different proposals. If you decide to accept the amended budget (as you did so at the budget meeting), it will not be necessary to reconvene the Council meeting. If you do not accept the amended budget, then Council must be reconvened. Will you please clarify your position and which course of action you plan to take?
- Can you confirm that you intend to go ahead with both the recycling centre and the swimming pool and if not for either of these, why not?
I look forward to your immediate response.
Cllr Gary Hopkins
Liberal Democrat Group Leader
Councillor for Knowle Ward