Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Tuesday 24th June 7.30pm

Courtesy of the Telegraph 

Scrutiny Overview Committee

The majority of this committee was given over to discussing a draft proposal for new CO2 emission based permit charges. This was pre-decision scrutiny before the report was submitted to the Executive. A report had been submitted stating that a number of other London boroughs had introduced such schemes, generally based on the DVLA’s banding for excise duty. As a borough committed to taking practical measures to reduce climate change it made sense for us to consider the practicalities of introducing a similar scheme. The report set out three options for linking the price of parking permits to the CO2 emissions of cars. The first introduced a discount for band B & C cars, with rising increases in charges for cars in bands D to G. Option 2 proposed no change in price for cars in bands B & C, but higher charges for bands D-G. Option 3 proposed a discount for bands B & C, bands D & E would pay the standard charge and bands F & G would pay a higher charge. The first two options would result in an increase in revenue, the third option was cost-neutral. On the basis that the aim of this policy was to reduce environmental impact, not raise revenue, the cost neutral option was being recommended.

 

A representative from the London Borough of Richmond had been invited to give evidence on their experience of introducing a similar scheme after consultation with residents.

 

As Tory Mayor Boris Johnson had just announced his lack of commitment to CO2 linked congestion charges our opposition colleagues rushed to condemn the proposal. They were unable to comprehend that the Richmond scheme was proving successful with an estimated 62% residents better off under the scheme, despite the considerable opposition to the policy initially. The Richmond officer was submitted to aggressive questioning from Tory members seeking to undermine the scheme’s achievements. The questions from our side of the table were more considered, focusing on differences & similarities between the two boroughs. I ascertained that roughly one third of the Richmond borough was affected by controlled parking zones (CPZs) and an average of 15,000 parking permits were issued annually. We were aware that there are considerably less CPZs in Sutton and Annette Madden, Executive Head of Business Services was able to advise that we only issued around 4,000 permits per annum.

 

Cllr. Sue Stears pointed out that the majority of our CPZs were around Sutton Town Centre, not the most affluent of areas, and these residents would effectively be penalised by the policy simply by virtue of where they lived. It was accepted that Richmond was a generally more affluent area, whereas those areas in the borough of Sutton which had the greatest number of wealthy residents would be largely unaffected by the policy.

 

The Tories, ever sceptical of the benefits of measures to reduce climate change, stumbled upon a relevant factor in the proposed policy when applied to Sutton – the small numbers may mean that the actual effect is minimal. However I felt that the Lib Dem concerns about the inequalities of the policy were a key issue. I had calculated that under the proposed options, under option 1, 33% of residents purchasing permits would be better off by an average of £4.69 per person, but 66% would be worse off by an average of £16 per person. Under option 2. no one would benefit, but 67% would be worse off at an average increase of £16.42 per person. Under option 3. the preferred cost-neutral option, 33% would gain an average of £4.67 each, but 13% – 378 people – would be paying a whopping £39 each  extra. Whilst we should expect the high polluters to be compensating the rest of us for their impact on the environment, I do consider placing a burden of £14, 765 on just 378 people who just happen to live in a controlled parking zone to be inequitable.

 

Cllr. Jerome astutely pointed out that there may be other schemes that would have a bigger impact on climate change without penalising a small majority, such as offering discounted rates in our car parks for greener vehicles.

 

The committee came to the conclusion that whilst we should continue as a borough to strive to encourage our residents to adopt environmentally friendly habits, there were doubts about whether this policy was the right way to achieve that aim, and that officers needed to do a lot more work to come up with workable suggestions in this area.

 

Cllr Colin Hall, as Executive Member for Environment & Leisure attended this meeting, and stated that he had been very interested to hear the debate on this issue and was pleased that this pre-decision scrutiny had given him a good steer for future policy proposals.

 

The next item of interest on this agenda was the Council’s Value for Money strategy which was being revised. As an accountant I was very concerned to witness the Tories attacking the council’s very prudent policy of having a general contingency fund. A contingency is an accounting term referring to funds set aside for potential unforeseen expenditure. Cllr Kennedy appeared to call for these reserves to be run down completely – a dangerous move which could have serious implications for the future ability of the council to meet its obligations. The practice is so important that the Secretary of State has powers to intervene when a Local Authority does not maintain an adequate reserve for contingencies. Then Cllr. Kennedy continued in his apparent desire to bankrupt the Council by suggesting that zero-based budgeting should be the costing method of default for the council. Here I was able to draw on my professional background to support Sue Higgins, the Director of Resources, when she advised that whilst zero-based budgeting might be applicable to isolated straightforward council operations it is not recommended for organisations of the complexity of local authorities. I stated that in my knowledge it was generally considered that the costs of implementing zero-based budgeting frequently outweighed any potential gains. The way that the council currently organises its budgeting procedures with great emphasis on identifying efficiencies results in the same benefits with less cost involved in the process of identifying savings, and has resulted in us being cited as a value for money authority. Unfortunately I doubt that this will stop Cllr. Kennedy from preaching his zero-based budgeting solution at every opportunity like a quack extolling his medicinal cure-all. I just hope that nobody takes him seriously as a quick check back to my study manuals also states that yet another disadvantage of zero-based budgeting is that it emphasises short term benefits to the detriment of long term solutions.

 

Buy my solution to everything!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agenda and minutes of this meeting will be available at:

http://sutton.moderngov.co.uk/ieListMeetings.asp?CId=323&Year=2008&J=4

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July 1, 2008 - Posted by | Committee Meeting

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