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The Guildford Borough Council budget is a difficult budget for difficult times. At a time of wage stagnation and price inflation, Guildford Labour are uncomfortable about agreeing a 3% rise to the Council Tax.

It goes without saying that we are horrified by the 6% increase levied by Surrey County Council, a decision that represents a longstanding failure by that council to get a grip on adult social services. Most of all, though, it represents the uncaring nature of this Tory Government’s ongoing austerity drive – where austerity means forcing local authorities, police and fire chiefs to make brutal cuts to services at a time of rocketing demand. It means, inevitably, that councils like Guildford are forced to take the blame when services our residents rely on are reduced or shelved altogether.

Where services were previously funded with help from the Government through the revenue support grant, this has been callously scrapped from this year. Councils now have to build their budgets around council tax returns and retained business rates, the latter of which are not guaranteed and are likely to be taken away by Whitehall. This steady erosion of local government since 2010 has been pedalled under the “localism” moniker, but it is ideologically-driven from the centre and often in opposition to the views of local people, including many Conservatives.

While we have reservations about the length of time some of the council’s main capital projects appear to be taking – in particular the North Street regeneration programme – we are pleased to see that others, like the long-promised transformation of the museum and castle precinct is on the cards for this year. We are pleased too that provision is made for the bike share scheme and for the initiation of the Guildford West station; projects that, in different ways, will transform the transport network in the borough and boost the economy to the west of the town.

We support innovation in ways of working, in ways of managing finances and ways in which the council can invest to save. What we do here should be about providing the best value for money for our residents and finding ways to provide the services and kind of town they want and need. That is the bottom line.  We do not believe in taking a dogmatic approach to economic management and service provision – as long as it is affordable, sensible, effective and accountable, we are open to all ideas about how we achieve the best outcomes for our borough.

We urge a note of caution for the future though. Local government will be squeezed further by central government. Demand for services will increase as the means of paying for them will decrease. Councils will reach the limit of how much extra they can wring from efficiency drives and service transformation.  In short, we will all need to think about what this council will look like in five to ten years’ time.

We will need to plan and prepare radical policies, change our delivery mechanisms, and, most importantly, manage the expectations of residents living under a system decimated by eight years (and counting) of this destructive, Conservative government.

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Labour respond to Borough Council budget

The Guildford Borough Council budget is a difficult budget for difficult times. At a time of wage stagnation and price inflation, Guildford Labour are uncomfortable about agreeing a 3% rise...

Guildford Labour is shocked at the decision from the Planning Inspector to allow Solum’s proposed development of the Railway Station to go ahead. We are now faced with the prospect of having an ugly, oversized megalith in place of a more thoughtful, sensitive and attractive development more in keeping with the special character of the town.

Listen to Brian Creese discuss the decision on BBC Radio Surrey:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05t4xry#playt=02h50m21s

Disgracefully, we are looking at yet another example of developers pulling the “viability” card to wriggle out of their commitment to include a fair number of affordable homes. In this case a lucrative development of 438 flats, numerous shops restaurants and offices in a prime location, and yet Solum propose to build a paltry 45 “affordable” homes. In other words, slightly more than 10% of the total when the council's current target for new developments is 40%.

The Government have a policy of localism, yet time and time again we see them riding roughshod over local views. All parties were united in turning down this planning application for many reasons, including the chronic lack of affordable housing, its inappropriate design and disruption to the skyline of Guildford blocking views of the Cathedral for many residents.

Guildford is an historic market town with a special character arising from its rich pre- and post-industrial past. You don’t have to walk far around the town before you start to feel its history and personality seeping up from the setts, alleyways and ancient buildings as you pass by. This is not understood by those who don’t live here, and that much is apparent in the approval of a development that is aesthetically mute, functionally bland, ridiculously oversized and fails to contribute to some of the council’s key objectives.

Guildford Labour Party are not NIMBYs, it does not oppose all new developments and champions the provision of affordable housing in the borough. We recognise that market forces are necessary to drive development and construction, but also believe that developers looking to work in the town must also actively exhibit a social conscience when drawing up their plans and support a minimum of 40% affordable homes in all developments.

The Conservatives in Surrey are constantly working against each other – Government against County, County against Borough and now Government against Borough. This decision - that will have an irreversible deleterious effect on the town and may well open the door to other large scale and inappropriate developments - will be a shock to Guildford residents and will put an end to the idea that having Tories in power locally will help ensure our views are heard in Whitehall. Honest Tories must now be thinking hard about where they belong in politics.

Guildford Labour shocked by railway station go ahead

Guildford Labour is shocked at the decision from the Planning Inspector to allow Solum’s proposed development of the Railway Station to go ahead. We are now faced with the prospect...

Labour will reform the rail system, to put passengers’ interests rather than profit at its heart, Guildford Labour Party members told commuters at the town's railway station on 2nd January.

The contrast with the current approach could not be clearer as the cost of a season ticket from the town to London increased to a staggering £3620 per year, as fares nationally increased by 3.4% despite wages.

The Labour Party will introduce a Public Ownership of the Railways Bill, to bring our railways back into public ownership, as franchises expire, or in other cases with franchise reviews of break clauses.

In public ownership, we will deliver real improvements for passengers by capping fares, introducing free Wi-Fi across networks, ensuring safe staffing levels, ending the expansion of driver only operations, and introducing legal duties to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

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Railways for the public, not for private public

Labour will reform the rail system, to put passengers’ interests rather than profit at its heart, Guildford Labour Party members told commuters at the town's railway station on 2nd January....

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