How Best To Respond To The Financial Challenge...
How Best To Respond To The Financial Challenge...


As Leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat Group on New Forest District Council, I am not always supportive of the Conservative administration. However, I accept that voters decided they should run things.

Where those in charge make good decisions, I acknowledge this is the case. For example, after some years of me pointing out the public health hazards of having sun beds in Leisure Centres, they removed them.

They also, eventually, took on board my strong urging to downsize the number of Councillors, to save the taxpayer money. It hasn't actually happened yet, but they will get there. Things often move very slowly.

They are probably also quite pleased that they took on board the need for members to have IT equipment and support, given that the lockdown restrictions make actual meetings difficult or impossible.

Conservatives have always strongly resisted any changes to household waste collection schemes, even though NFDC is one of the worst performing authorities in the country. Government may step in and force them to adopt wheelie bins, in line with most other authorities. I personally favour giving people a choice, but you won't get that under the Conservatives.

The more pressing matter that the authority needs to address is the very real risk that it will run out of money to operate services.

It's beginning to look like only those things that the Council has to do, by law, will be affordable. There has, so far, been no attempt to find out what the majority of people want and then think about how it can be paid for. In this way, we might lose swimming pools and other health and leisure centres to the private sector. I don't think people voted for this. It didn't appear in any manifesto.

There has been some real howlers made when it comes to wasting money. The £300,000 failed legal case over leisure centre floors won't be easily forgotten. More recently, NFDC was involved in £1 million wastage of taxpayer's money, all over a tussle over a local government re-organisation that didn't happen.

Some argue that Conservatives aren't responsible for the Coronavirus losses to local authorities and businesses. Only an inquest will determine that, in due course. Certainly, a lot of people don't think the right decisions were taken promptly enough and other decisions were just plain wrong. When you compare our performance to every other country in Europe (combined), it doesn't suggest great leadership or performance.

At a local level, Liberal Democrat Councillors are being asked to participate in a number of Task & Finish groups, examining how best to respond to the impact of Covid-19. I am sure we will do so, positively.


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