by Lucy Care on 13 November, 2014
Last night Lib Dem councillors won the argument but lost the vote.
We had ‘called-in’ Labour’s decision on which suburban shopping areas the council should spend around £8 million improving. Liberal Democrats are very supportive of local communities and see such local shopping areas as a vital part of the local area. When leading the council we too had invested in such areas. So why were we worried now?
In the report to Cabinet Labour had identified six priority areas, but the report gave no reasons for why these had been chosen. However the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had also asked for greater clarity for why these were chosen and as a result ‘deprivation’ had been announced as the reason at the Cabinet meeting itself.
But if ‘deprivation’, and deprivation by council ward, was the reason, why weren’t all main local shopping areas in the most deprived areas included? There are 13 such areas in the city and they are known as district centres. And what about deprived wards without their own district centre?
One of the areas listed as a priority was the name of a ward without a district centre – Derwent. There are smaller, neighbourhood, centres here, but which one did the report mean – or did they mean all of them? We still don’t know – even though the Cabinet member himself represents this ward. And what about all the other neighbourhood centres in the city (there are about 50)? Should they be considered too?
Clarity was seriously missing.
The Lib Dem councillors – myself, Eric Ashburner and Ruth Skelton from Blagreaves ward – said that decision-making needed to be evidence-based. This is particularly true when money is in short supply (as Labour keep saying it is). We need to be sure that we are getting as much benefit as possible from the money being spent.
Labour want the investment to result in fewer empty shops, a better built environment, better access and parking, improved connections to the city centre (why does this help the local shopping centre?) and a stronger community spirit. But Labour had done no survey of the centres to identify which needed most help.
They had not asked local councillors or Neighbourhood Boards their opinion before coming up with their priority list.
The Labour Cabinet member had few answers.
The Labour members on the Committee could see nothing wrong.
So Labour is committing to spending £8m, of which it doesn’t know where £6m is coming from, on projects for which it has no evidence that work is needed.
Rather than have the Labour Leadership agree a shortlist (paragraph 4.13 in the report) based on their hunches – or party political priorities – the Liberal Democrats would liked to have seen a fair assessment and clear rankings done of all centres.
It would not take long to count empty shops, record the range of shops, assess problem parking and the like. But then we could have evidence-based decision-making, making best use of limited resources and not risking accusations of party political favouritism.
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