Budget 21/22 — Cllr Gurch Singh’s speech to Full Council

“A Borough of Innovation and Opportunity”!  It’s a catchy slogan, and you plaster it everywhere! Apart from within your budget, where innovation is sorely lacking, and opportunity has been culled to the point of extinction.

We have tried to contribute with fresh ideas, new thinking, a positive vision.  To date you have been closed and selfish, determined to pursue your own course. Too proud, too conceited to rely on the experience and expertise within the Opposition.

My senior colleague, Cllr Werner reminded me of a time when Borough officers used their expertise to raise revenue with favourable cross-authority agreements.  I listened, something you could take on board, and my sense of opportunity, my background in successful small businesses, prompted some thoughts.

The Government has recently expanded permitted development rights. In part the changes are aimed at increasing housing opportunities in existing developed areas to help meet our housing needs. If successful, it will ease the need for Green Belt developments, a particularly thorny issue for the Royal Borough.

Householders need to be aware of the new possibilities.  They need a one-stop shop, that can tell them what is possible for their property, help them with plans, costings and to find reliable contractors.  Someone is going to provide this service.  Why shouldn’t it be us?

After all we used to have a duty planning officer, offering a drop-in service to residents.  Of course, it used to be free but that’s not possible after fourteen years of neglect.  However, a price point that makes us more attractive than private architects for small projects is surely possible?  You might even be able to run it through the existing RBWM Property Company.  It would be nice to see them interacting with residents and not just national and multi-national property developers.  It would also help to justify their staggering salary bill.

And please do not tell us why you cannot do it.  Take the idea away and find a way to make it work.  That is innovation, that is opportunity.  If you will not, come 2023, we will.  But by then it might be too late.  Another opportunity missed.

Climate emergency and carbon neutrality also offer an arena in which to raise revenues.  An officer or two, advising small businesses, as they emerge from lockdown restrictions on energy efficiency, noise pollution, water saving. We are doing it anyway, for free, through the blunt instrument of enforcement.

My colleague, Cllr. Baldwin can tell you how many hours we wasted, at no charge, pursuing a small retailer in his ward, when they would happily have paid for the very advice, they needed to solve their and the resident’s issues.  Instead, they paid a third party, out-of-town contractor.  More missed opportunities.

We have an enormous store of expertise. At a time of terrible retrenchment is it so unthinkable to consider these options?  I say not. I say my vision is a “Borough of Innovation and Opportunity”.

The difference between me and you, is that, when I say it, I mean it.  When you say it, you fake it.

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Budget 21/22 — Cllr Gurch Singh’s speech to Full Council

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