Cross-party working to solve UDC £3.5m financial hole to protect council services

Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) is making changes in the way investments are undertaken at UDC. This is part of increased cross-party working to protect vital council funding and services.

John Lodge (R4U) John Lodge (R4U)

£3.5m/year in government austerity cuts for UDC

R4U’s Cllr John Lodge, the UDC Council Leader, said “This is a crucial time for UDC as we prepare next years’ budget and work to solve a big funding problem that we inherited. The Westminster government have left a ticking time bomb in local council finances across the country. They continue to pretend to be shaking the Magic Money Tree, but behind the scenes they are slashing council funding. Their ‘stealth austerity’ programme is cutting grants and not giving UDC a fair share of business rates. These cuts will leave UDC short by £3.5 million a year. Many councils, such as UDC, can only make up the huge shortfall by generating income from property investments.”

R4U committed to fixing funding gap

Cllr Lodge added “R4U has committed to residents to fix the financial gap at UDC as we did previously with the £1m financial blackhole left at Saffron Walden Town Council in 2015. Our approach to UDC’s investment strategy is twofold: we need to increase income from investments at the same time as reducing the risk to the taxpayer; and we need stronger independent governance and expertise. That is why R4U set up a new all-party Investment Board onto which we are bringing independent external investment experts.”

New Investment Board to bring more accountablility

The Investment Board is a brand new working group set up by R4U at UDC to specifically increase governance and transparency. It is also tasked with reducing the risks associated with the Council’s investment activities. Previously it was not clear to residents how the former Conservative administration made investment decisions.  This new working group also specifically includes members from all political parties to increase democracy and accountability.

At the recent Investment Board meeting the Greens resigned from the working group. This was after their political leader at UDC was not elected by other group members to lead the interview panel tasked with screening applicants for the new independent external Board member seats. The Greens are a minority party at UDC, only polling 3% of the district vote in the previous local election. It would have been surprising for them to lead the interview panel.

R4U’s John Lodge said “This is a vital time for council service funding so it is disappointing that the Green councillors have decided that they do not want to participate in the Investment Board unless they lead things. This should not be about their personal egos. I firmly believe that council working groups and committees should include representation from every party, ideally on a democratic basis that is proportional to the number of councillors they have.”

Unanimous cross-party action to balance budget

Cllr Lodge concluded “Meanwhile at the most recent Investment Board meeting there was unanimous and positive cross-party agreement to bolster investments to balance the budget. In terms of process, the Board is a cabinet working group, and so doesn’t make individual investment decisions. Any final decision is made by the full council, where councillors from all parties vote. That is part of making it democratic, transparent and accountable. Through investment activities at UDC, and other actions, R4U is committed to working for residents with all parties to close the huge government funding gap.”

About Residents for Uttlesford

Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) is the local independent party of north-west Essex towns and villages. Formed in 2014 by a number of residents’ groups, the party believes that on local issues residents should decide, not Westminster parties.

R4U leads Uttlesford District Council (UDC). It is the fastest growing local political movement in its district. In its first election in 2015 it became the second party at UDC. In 2017 it solidified its position with a further by-election gain with 60% of the vote. In the May 2019 Local Elections R4U gained majority control of UDC winning two-thirds of the seats. The result delivered the biggest loss of seats by any UK Conservative controlled council in the UK.

R4U’s success has been based on the desire to give local people a voice and implement long range strategic and sustainable plans for their area.

R4U also leads Saffron Walden Town Council, where under its stewardship the council has rebuilt finances, invested in community assets, and won multiple awards, including the best run council in Essex. It is a minority party on Great Dunmow Town Council.

Residents for Uttlesford can be found on the web at www.residents4u.org.