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Bradford Council is urged to spend its reserves
Council bosses have been condemned for sitting on “loads of spare cash” while preparing to make drastic cuts and raise council tax for the second year running.
Bradford Council’s reserves now stand at a £99.6 million – the highest figure of West Yorkshire councils. Schools in the district collectively have a further £41m in the bank.
The authority has yet to set council tax for the year but it has suggested a 1.6 per cent rise, following last year’s 1.99 per cent hike. Yesterday, Chancellor George Osborne said Council chiefs “had some explaining to do”, while pressure group The TaxPayers’ Alliance branded the situation “absolutely preposterous”.
Bradford Council is expected to spend some of its unallocated reserves over the next two years, but it has not yet said how much. The Labour administration has long argued that most of its reserves cash cannot be used to plug funding gaps because it is ‘allocated’ for specific projects or purposes.
But opposition councillors claim some of these allocations are more than a decade old and the cash should be freed up.
Councillor Howard Middleton, the Liberal Democrats group chief whip and an accountant, said some of the allocated reserves had been set aside and left unspent since he joined the Council in 1996.
He said: “Some of these things have been there for a number of years and they’ve never been used. There’s no immediate likelihood they’re going to be used in the near future.”
He gave the example of a £2 million pot, which is set aside each year for any VAT payments the authority may have to make, but had never been spent to his knowledge.
Coun Middleton said his party had been calling for a review of all allocated reserves for years.
Labour insisted it was on top of the issue, that a full review of allocations had very recently been carried out and that the results would be published on Monday.
But Dia Chakravarty, political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, was scathing with her criticism.
She said: “It is absolutely preposterous that Bradford Council has the gall to propose a further tax rise.”
Speaking during a visit to the area yesterday, Mr Osborne said: ”I think Bradford Council has some explaining to do if they are sitting on these reserves. What are they sitting on them for? If they’re not using them they’ve got to explain to people why they are imposing cuts when they could be drawing on reserves.
“Ultimately it’s not for a national politician to come along and hold them to account. It’s local people who can hold the Council to account because it is democratically elected and can be democratically rejected.”
Councillor Glen Miller, leader of the Council’s Conservative group, accused the Labour-run authority of building up “slush funds” for pet projects.
He said: “I have always said this authority has loads of spare cash. They continue to over-tax the residents of this district, to then blame central Government.”
But Councillor Imran Hussain (Lab), deputy leader of Bradford Council, said reserves could only be spent once and to suggest they could be used to stave off huge Government cuts was “crass and irresponsible”.
He said: “We've already reviewed reserves to see what can be made available to support the transition to much lower levels of spending in the face of massive, disproportionate Government cuts. The recommendations are published on Monday.”
Bradford Council’s draft budget proposals – including controversial cuts to the youth service, public toilets and mobile libraries – have now been out to public consultation.
The final proposals will be revealed on Tuesday, February 18, ahead of the budget-setting meeting on Thursday, February 20.
Meanwhile, Ilkley Parish Council is to increase its Council Tax precept for the average household by 22 per cent, as it commits £20,000 to Tour de France preparations and raises awards and projects spending. The Council agreed a £185,600 budget for 2014-15 – including a £160,093 charge to Ilkley taxpayers. This will see a Band D Property go from paying £19.60 to £24.04 a year.