On 15th March, I did my best to avoid the recently incurred expense of £18,000 to the taxpayers of Salisbury for a poll to vote on a motion requesting public consultation on any future proposal to set an increase of more than 5%.
I prepared the following statement to read to the residents attending the meeting:
● I am a Labour councillor but was speaking as a resident
● I agree the increase in the 2023/24 precept is exceptionally high
● The poll cannot change the current budget
● I do not oppose the motion to request a poll
● Defer any decision about conducting a poll until November for three reasons
● It may be possible to set a precept acceptable to most residents
● If we achieve this aim it will save the taxpayers £18,000
● If there is widespread dissatisfaction over the proposed precept there would still be ample time to conduct the poll currently being proposed
● It makes sense to not make a decision now.
My views were ignored and the poll, called for by 10 residents, went ahead. Regrettably, the outcome of the poll is far from conclusive due to the extremely poor turnout. Cllrs Wills and McGrath insist the 83% (approx. 1,000 residents) vote in favour, indicates overwhelming support.
A more telling outcome of the poll was that over 94% (approx. 29,000 residents) did not even bother to vote for various reasons. Possibly the knowledge that the outcome is not legally binding had an impact.
Wild accusations by some Conservative councillors of voting ‘suppression’ and misinformation by the current administration are absurd. Wiltshire Council was paid (handsomely!) to organise and publish details of the poll, not the City Council.
Thousands of leaflets, published by the Conservative Party, were pushed through letterboxes across the city and the poll was promoted extensively by the two Conservative city councillors on social media. Both councillors still insist their actions were not politically motivated.
It is now time to end the tedious debate over polls and consultation. What’s done is done. We know at least 992 residents of Salisbury are not happy about the increase in the precept this year.
Looking ahead, the current administration will be aiming to consult more widely before setting the next precept and hoping for full engagement from Conservative councillors in that process. Some budgetary decisions are made for long term improvements, and the wisdom of those decisions and the outcomes will become apparent over time.
Consultation will inform the decision making process but often will elicit opposing views. The current administration was democratically elected with a turnout of almost 50% of the residents eligible to vote in 2021 and as such has the mandate to make decisions until 2025.