Thursday, March 24, 2005

Passing the buck

Our Liberal Democrat friends have a problem with CCTV.

Back in December 2000, the councillors representing Kings Heath in Birmingham were delighted when a project involving West Midlands Police, the City Council, CENTRO and the Home Office funded 14 security cameras around the shopping centre. They've been in since December 2002 and the local businesses reckon that they have reduced theft.

The funding for the initial pilot scheme has now come to an end and the local Liberal Democrat councillors now say that it is a 'financial shambles' because the Labour councillors apparently didn't budget for it. Unless they can find over a quarter of a million pounds by December, it gets switched off.

Except.... that the Labour councillors have nothing to do with it any more.

Two of the three ward councillors (in charge of the £400,000 Neighbourhood Renewal Fund spending this year) are Liberal Democrat and the council itself, with overall budgetary control, is a Liberal Democrat/Tory coalition and has been since June 2004.

They just can't get out of the habit of blaming Labour, can they? They've been in power for the best part of a year and have gone through the budget process as a partner in the coalition and the NRF funding for 2005/6 should be being allocated by each ward or district at the moment. If the money isn't there, it is their job to find it or defend the service cuts. Blaming the previous administration is, frankly, silly.

The 'crisis' may be hitting the headlines because the other councillor, a Labour member, has stood down for family reasons and a by-election is pending.

I'm also intrigued by the maths. Curiously, the LibDems reckon that they need almost a quarter of a million to continue the camera operation, but the original Home Office budget of £70,ooo for the initial eight cameras for three years seems to suggest that the annual running costs for fourteen cameras are nearer £50,000 a year, something that is well within the reach of the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund. (Information and comments on this welcome.)

One day, the Liberal Democrats will realise that opposition politics don't work when you are the governing party. Being in government is about responsibility.

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