‘AIRBRUSHING’ ACCUSATION AT LABOUR’S BUDGET CONSULTATION

14 Feb 2024
Cllr Karen Young

Cambridge City’s Council’s Labour administration is being accused of ‘airbrushing’ the results of its recent public consultation on its budget proposals. Opposition Liberal Democrats are accusing Labour of misrepresenting the public’s responses to suit their own agenda.

The budget setting report being recommended by the Labour-controlled Executive to Thursday’s city council meeting is being challenged as based on a false version of what people actually told the council. 

According to the raw data, responses show that people told the council their top priority for Cambridge was “Essential public services (for example collecting household waste, street cleaning and planning applications)”. Yet, in summarising this, the budget fails even to mention “essential public services”, instead substituting lower ranked priorities. However, there is nothing in the budget proposals that address these priorities, particularly that of anti-social behaviour, which is something the LibDem proposals seek to address.

The Labour Executive also claims the public consultation showed broad support for “reducing the specification of some services”, a possibility which is roundly rejected, 50% to 30%, in the actual responses the council received. 

Cllr Karen Young, Liberal Democrat Finance spokesperson said:

“This is twisting the responses provided in good faith by the public. And surprise, surprise, it fits neatly with what the Labour administration is doing - and not doing. 

We saw it in their recent housing budget in refusing to accept that maintenance of existing homes has become the Cinderella versus the building of new ones. We saw it in last year’s cutback of the team of environmental patrols.  It has become inconvenient for them to hear about the public priority for basic services and helpful if they can make out people are OK with in watering them down.  Neither are true - and they have been well and truly found out.  

“In the process they have done irreparable damage to people’s willingness to participate in consultative exercises like this. It was already a poor piece of budget consultation, which didn’t mention what was actually proposed in the budget and didn’t ask people what they would like to see more or less of. Capped off by an unwillingness to recognise even what people were actually telling them in response to the very general questions they did ask, shows it was being treated rather like a box ticking exercise. 

“We totally agree with the public that focus on essential public services ought to be the priority and watering them down is not the way forward. Furthermore, it is not justified by any of the pressures that are on the council in Cambridge. That is why the Liberal Democrats, reflecting on people’s priorities, are bringing to the council on Thursday a series of practical proposals to improve the council’s response to anti-social behaviour which can be undertaken without jeopardising other things. 

"Whether it’s fly tipping, littering, noisy late night street racers, illegal e-scooters, anti-social behaviour is the bane of many people’s lives and it doesn’t feel to anyone that it’s ‘job done’. People tell us that it's precisely to tackle these problems that they have a local council. Yet the council last year thought it acceptable to cutback its enforcement team and has kicked other proposals we have made to reduce anti-social behaviour into the long grass. At the same time the Labour administration would do well to speed up their long-running reorganisation to remove the future threat over basic services that the public regard as priorities.”