4 February 2018
At the beginning of January, Green City Councillors put forward a 6-point “Budget Priorities Plan” to improve both the local economy and residents’ way of life (see https://northlancs.greenparty.org.uk/news/2018/01/09/green-councillors-call-for-6-budget-priorities-for-local-people,-the-environment-and-the-economy/).
Most, but not all of these proposals, were presented to the full Lancaster City Council meeting on 31 January (https://committeeadmin.lancaster.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=305&MId=6916). The main omissions - because of question and speech time constraints - were on retro-fit building skills and new council-funded housing.
1) LOCALISING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Greens welcome the officer report on localising the economy, also known as community wealth-building; in particular the engagement with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. And the Greens propose to seek to focus economic development activity on assisting existing growth businesses, especially digital businesses, not seeking after inward investment. (i.e. curtail expenditure on marketing. A report for Leeds city council on ending its direct involvement in promotion of inward investment refers to the 'fiercely competitive global market-place' in which it takes place.)
A recent, well-sourced report on behalf of Digital Lancaster ('Nowhere to Grow') highlights a lack of available city centre office space and the need for a much faster broadband service. Greens propose that the key objective is to make Lancaster a 'Gigabit City' (1Gb broadband speed) as current broadband speeds are not competitive; and that the city council forms a round table with office-based businesses in order to ascertain detailed needs and identify the feasibility of fulfilling them. Moor Lane Mills has been identified as one such potential opportunity to accommodate the space needs of growing digital businesses.
2) RELIEF OF EXTREME POVERTY.
In 2017, the Greens supported a motion sponsored by Labour councillors calling on government to address 'holiday hunger'. But waiting for this government to take action leaves many vulnerable people in want of essentials and resorting to food banks now. The Greens propose that the City Council should allocate £20k in the 2018-19 budget to fund vouchers for food and utilities through the local Citizen Advice Bureau offices in Lancaster and Morecambe (agreed in principle), contingent on city council and CAB agreeing detailed criteria for their distribution.
3) LOCALISE RENEWABLE ENERGY PRODUCTION.
Greens welcome the proposal to allocate funds to develop the business case for a solar farm at Middleton, hopefully building on the work already funded before the 2015 election. Greens propose that Lancaster should initiate joint ventures with private, or preferably community, partners to build solar farms at Salt Ayre (now that it's back in city council ownership) as well as at Middleton; review other options for renewable energy generation at these sites; and investigate the installation of solar panels on council housing. The city council could use the council's capital borrowing powers as necessary and boost revenue by selling the electricity generated to LCC itself (via what is known as a sleeving arrangement.)
4) DEVELOP THE SKILLS OF LOCAL PEOPLE.
Greens welcome the reference to developing the skills of local people as part of the budget's economic development activity. The Greens propose that the city council specifically seeks to develop a local Building Trades Academy – for example through a joint venture with Lancaster & Morecambe College which builds on the college's own construction skills expertise. The particular aim is to build up the skills base to enable energy-saving retro-fitting of housing, importantly with a council-backed guarantee to encourage take-up; and to assist with affordable housing. Equally to help to tackle the issue of those young people being left adrift – those not in employment, education or training. The Greens propose that the Council would deploy skilled people onto its own older estate properties, e.g. on Newton.
5) LOW-ENERGY, AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR LOCAL PEOPLE.
Greens propose that it partners with suitable building companies to use
council borrowing powers to build new, and buy existing, properties to
secure a greater number of more sustainable and more affordable properties
for rent. This would also provide more competition for the private rental
sector. Prefabricated construction is now recognised as a way forward for a
sustainable house-build revolution. Lancaster should consider the promising
examples of excellence from elsewhere in low-carbon
6) 'SECONDARY' OR 'LOCAL' PARK IMPROVEMENT FUND OF £30,000.
Williamson Park is in good condition and has good infrastructure. However, many other parks (e.g. Scotch Quarry, Quay Meadow, Greaves Park) are either in a poor condition in terms of infrastructure or receive little or no cleaning. This money could be used to improve the infrastructure of our parks (e.g. paths) and /or to improve their cleanliness.
7) ADDRESS THE REVENUE BUDGET GAPS
In view of the budgetary savings requirements for 2019-2020, and in particular that the 2020-2021 funding gap is largely unchanged from a year ago at over £2m, Greens call on cabinet to detail how it proposes to make substantive progress to bridging the funding gaps before proposing the final version of its 2018-19 budget.
8) REVIEW CAPITAL EXPENDITURE PROGRAMME
That capital programme expenditure involving city council-sourced funds be paused until the affordability, including MRP (minimum revenue provision: in effect the long-term repayment of capital expenditure from the revenue fund) implications of previous and proposed expenditure, is clearly set out. Council should note that the MRP is already set to increase by 66% between 2016-17 (£1.2m) and 2018-19 (£2m) and this puts even more pressure on trying to achieve a balanced revenue budget in future years.