TRISH AND RICHARD SPEAK IN THE COUNCIL BUDGET DEBATE

On 2 March Sutton Council debated its budget proposals for the next year. The Council has set a responsible budget concentrating its resources on those in greatest need. The background to the debate is that over the last ten years our core central Government funding has been reduced by more than 60% in real terms and we continue to face unprecedented financial pressures.

Trish made a moving speech about the need for additional resources for perinatal services. Here is Richard’s speech:

“I am in my tenth year as a Councillor and I find these annual budget debates in some ways ever more difficult.

But we need to lift our eyes.

It was about seventy years ago that the famous American economist J.K. Galbraith, a hero of mine, coined the phrase “private affluence and public squalor”, pointing out that society spends enormous sums of money on some goods and services while services that are collectively funded by society are generally kept very short of money, something he ascribed, rightly, to the obsession of the political right with cutting taxes and reducing the size of the state.

In modern Britain, we undoubtedly have this phenomenon – made much worse by austerity.

The collectively funded services that in my view society fails to fund adequately include education, hospitals, social care, social housing, welfare, help for the homeless, children’s services, libraries, and support for children with special educational needs. I could go on. And also some services that those on the political right might also want to spend more money on, like the welfare of the armed services.

We need more support for public services but we know that in Tory Britain we will not get it, which makes setting a responsible and well targeted budget of such great importance.

What stands out from this budget statement is the responsibility shown.

We are raising revenue, insofar as we can

We are not relying on raiding further our meagre reserves.

We are concentrating spending on the priorities that help those in most need.

There is a lot of Government rhetoric about at the moment about ending austerity, but if you look at the actuality of Government policy and spending commitments it remains overall highly fiscally restricted, with much made of a boost in what is a limited number of areas.

The reality is that over the last ten years our core central Government funding has been reduced by more than 60% in real terms and we continue to face unprecedented financial pressures as a result of grant reductions, underfunded new burdens from central Government and increased demand for services – due to demographic pressures and the impact of austerity, particularly cuts in welfare support for those in poverty.

While we’re managing with less, more people than ever need our help – child poverty has grown, more people are using food banks.

About two thirds of our spending is on support to vulnerable adults and children – including on caring for older people, “looked after” children, and people with learning and physical disabilities who need help to live independently.

The way our expenditure is skewed in this way, skewed by our statutory obligations but also our wish to concentrate spending on those in greatest need, is something that I think is not widely realised by our residents, most of whom are of course not consumers of those services.

And it concerns me that if you look at the Council’s risk statement there are areas where the Council faces difficulty in meeting even its statutory obligations – including homelessness, provision for those with Special Educational Needs, Homecare services, and support for child asylum seekers.

But we are an authority pursuing highly responsible policies to keep our head above water and maintaining the absolute priority policies that help the most vulnerable

So my feeling is we can be proud of this budget is – the themes being

1 there are major problems to be tackled

2 there is a very responsible approach and

3 there are policies to support those in greatest need.”

OUR RESIDENTS ARE SATISFIED, BUT CARS CAUSE PROBLEMS

Richard is a member of the Council’s Strategy and Resources Committee, which met on 10 February. The most interesting item was the report on the resident satisfaction survey, which showed some positive results. 74% of residents are satisfied with the work of the Council, 58% believe the Council gives value for money in its work. In his speech to the Committee Richard pointed out that the results showed Sutton as being well ahead of the average – 58% on value for money against a national average of 48%, 74% on satisfaction with the Council against a national average of 63%.

As ever the main issue raised when asked about problems is parking. Problems with the motor car – traffic congestion, speeding traffic, parking – are a major source of problems. The Council has responded with its parking study and we will investigate the scope for creating quiet, traffic free roads in our Ward, with better air quality, if new parking controls lead to more traffic.

SECOND SERIOUS FIRE IN THE WARD IN THREE MONTHS

UPDATE – Since the story below was posted there has been a third serious fire, again with extensive damage to property but no injuries, this in Westmoreland Drive.

On 15 January Trish and Richard visited Grosvenor Court in Brighton Road where there had been a serious fire in a second floor flat during the night. Extensive damage had been caused to the flat and the flat downstairs, but mercifully no-one was injured. We spoke to the fire office, the caretaker of the building and the owner of the flat, which had been empty and under renovation at the time.

Last October, Richard and Trish visited Sutton Court, one of the largest estates in our Ward, having learned of a fire in a flat at the block (see photo). We spoke to the next door neighbour, who lives in the flat opposite on the top floor of their block. She had been concerned at the fire but we were all relieved that no-one was hurt and the damage confined to a single flat.

The damage that fires can cause emphasises the need for everyone to fit smoke detectors and carbon monoxide indicators.

SUPPORTING OUR RESIDENTS FROM EUROPEAN UNION COUNTRIES

Almost one in eight of our residents in Sutton South Ward are European Union citizens – an unusually high proportion. Hard working EU citizens have been vital to our economy, particularly in the health service, social care, transport and catering. We value the huge contribution they make to our economy and to local life. Now that Brexit will happen, we urge our residents who are EU citizens to take action to ensure they and their family can stay in the UK by applying to the Government’s settled or pre-settled status scheme, details of which are on the website www.gov.uk. If you are a citizen of the European Union, the European Economic Area or Switzerland you can apply now. You can also apply through the Council at no cost by going to www.sutton.gov.uk and typing “nationality” in the search line.

We meet many hard-working EU citizens who have lived here for years and contribute massively to our society and our economy. The UK needs what they contribute to our society.

READY FOR COLD WEATHER

Ready for the snow

Sutton Council has again, this year, offered residents and businesses in Sutton the opportunity to collect 10kg of free grit per household or business to use on footpaths, pavements or roads in front of their homes or business premises. Residents could also collect grit for elderly friends and neighbours, or residents and businesses who do not have cars. 

LET US KNOW IF THERE IS A GRIT BIN IN YOUR ROAD THAT NEEDS TOPPING UP.

RICHARD AND TRISH WIN IMPORTANT CHANGES TO LICENCE APPLICATION IN WORCESTER ROAD

The Russettings

Trish and Richard intervened in the debate over an application for a licence to sell alcohol, from the Registrar’s Office in Worcester Road, The Russettings. They persuaded the office to limit the hours sought so that it did not extend into the evenings.

The office was happy to do this as they are closed in the evening. It seems the application for a licence in the evening was a mistake. They want to be able to provide the happy couple at the weddings they conduct with a glass of champagne. These weddings are always daytime events.

Richard spoke at the hearing on the licence application. This is his speech:

“The task of the committee is to satisfy itself that two very important objectives can be achieved simultaneously. There is no reason why they cannot be.

These are:

First, the Registrar’s Office should be able to properly perform the important functions it discharges for the residents of Sutton, in a world where (I accept) the expectations of the community as to how these functions are discharged has changed a little.

Second, the Office should be a good neighbour and not disturb the peace and quiet of the residential area where it is situated.

I would like to say a word about each of these objectives.

The Registrar’s Office has been in Worcester Road for over 50 years and its functions have changed little over time. I have been to weddings at the office, as a guest, to meetings and conferences there, and to Citizenship Ceremonies. During my year as Mayor I attended these every week to make a speech of welcome to new citizens. The importance of these functions to those who take part needs to be recognised. The day you get married, the day you take British citizenship, these are massive moments in life that stay in the memory and I know the office does all it can to ensure these are happy events. I have been to these events and found champagne is being served when it has been brought by the happy couple or, very occasionally, the new citizen. I think it quite appropriate that a glass of champagne should be available at these events. Those involved all want to make this a happy day and there is no reason atall to suppose that this will lead to disorder in the context of these carefully organised and conducted ceremonies. In fact, there is more of an element of control if champagne is being provided in a managed way rather than people bringing their own.

On the second objective, the expectations of the Councillors and the residents is that the Office will continue to be a good neighbour. That is vital and I am pleased the Office has emphasised its commitment to do this. I am pleased with the assurances that have been given about a limit on the supply of champagne and how these events will continue to be carefully organised. The changes the Office have made to the application to limit the hours and to daytime are, of course, of massive importance and re-assurance.

There was no reason why the licence should extend into the evening. These weddings are daytime events and the office is normally closed in the evening.

I think it important this hearing today had taken place so we can get these assurances from the Office. The officers who run the Registrar’s Office know that were there to be any disorder and disturbance to local residents in the future, the Councillors and their employers would be immediately investigating. I very much hope the Office will continue to discharge these very important functions – which bring happiness to those who take part are are important, memorable days in their lives – without any undue disturbance to the neighbourhood beyond what has happened for the many years the Office has been in Worcester Road. “

HARRIS ACADEMY IN BELMONT OPENED

On 8 October we both attended the opening of the new Harris Academy secondary school in Belmont. We were very impressed by the school, which is already vastly over-subscribed. We recollect the fuss and opposition when building a school on this site was first proposed. Quite a few of our residents in Sutton South Ward now have children at this school. ~It was opened by the broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili.

Jim Al-Khalili, third from left, opens the school

SORTING OUT THE STATION

The work involved in repairing a major electricity cable has caused real problems outside Sutton station and the closure of a bus stop. Trish and Richard had to intervene when the pavement was shut and no walkway established, so people were walking in the road. Eventually we got a walkway put in.

ANY IDEAS ON UPGRADING THE PATH AT THE END OF UPLAND ROAD?

On 5 September Richard was one of a group of officers and Councillors that inspected the short footpath that leads from Upland Road to Banstead Road South. Some residents have asked if the footpath could be upgraded, but the question is – exactly what could be done?

While we were there a team of contractors arrived and undertook the work we had requested to cut back the overgrowing vegetation along the side of the path and tidy it up. It looks better now.

The surface of the path is in reasonable condition for a footpath. There are two lamp standards and we hope to get the trees – which are in the gardens of private houses – that partly shade the lights trimmed back. The fencing along the path is mostly in good condition.

At present the path is a footpath and cyclists are expected to dismount. It would be possible to make it dual use. It is straight, so when entering the footpath at one end you can see if anyone is on the path for the whole length of the path. Assuming people are sensible and a cyclist who encountered a pedestrian on the path would proceed with caution, it would be possible to allow cyclists to use it. Officers are to take some measurements and assess the possibilities.

We would like to know your opinion on these possibilities, and how the path might be spruced up.

STOP PRESS – the vegetation has been cut back. It is proposed to keep the path better maintained. Some work will be undertaken to widen the path at points where it could be widened, and to allow cyclists to use the path.