By Peter Downes, Leader, Liberal Democrat Group, Huntingdonshire District Council Huntingdonshire District Council needs a strong opposition. Without challenge, a ruling group in power for more than 30 years becomes indifferent to what people are thinking
By Peter Downes, Leader, Liberal Democrat Group, Huntingdonshire District Council
Huntingdonshire District Council needs a strong opposition. Without challenge, a ruling group in power for more than 30 years becomes indifferent to what people are thinking. It assumes it is always right, stops listening to others, and makes mistakes.
Huntingdonshire District Council has 52 councillors. There are currently 10 Liberal Democrats and no Labour. We in the Liberal Democrats do our best to ask questions which the public tells us need asking.
We have, for example, challenged the decision to spend £23million on an office accommodation redesign at a time when local government may be reorganised before the building programme is complete. We should surely find out when the police headquarters will become vacant. We have challenged spending £115,000 on a public relations consultant to sell the idea to the public. We have challenged increasing the size of the offices at a time when most administrations are seeking to downsize.
Financial strategy is the other main area of challenge. The ruling group takes great pride in Huntingdonshire's Council Tax being very low. What they have been reluctant to explain is that this low tax has largely been achieved by using up interest on the income from the sale of our council houses six years ago. As this subsidy cannot go on forever, the chickens are now coming home to roost.
Their financial strategy would have resulted in Council Tax going up by more than 60 per cent over the next five years. Instead, constrained by central Government capping, the council cannot raise tax above five per cent per year, and so has to find £5million of savings over the next five years, mainly by reducing service levels. Huntingdonshire residents are doomed to get less and pay more.
Huntingdonshire residents need to have more Liberal Democrat councillors to speak up for them. That is why we are fighting a vigorous campaign, visiting thousands of houses, conducting face-to-face surveys, and working hard to get our message across.
Although the Liberal Democrats cannot gain control this year, what we can do is to increase our positive influence by having more councillors and make the Conservatives take note of the public's concern.