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Labour pushes through Council Tax rise in Bradford
A rise in Council Tax will accompany a third successive year of multi-million pound cuts across Bradford Council departments following a two-hour-long debate at City Hall tonight.
The ruling Labour group’s budget plans were passed with the support of the Greens at the end of the lively meeting, which will mean a 1.99 per cent increase in Council Tax from April – the first rise in three years.
Labour rejected a Government grant worth the equivalent of a one per cent rise in Council Tax, and instead opted to increase the tax by a whisker shy of the Government’s two per cent threshold that would have triggered a referendum.
The group came under fire from the Conservatives for denying residents the right to have their say for the sake of 0.1 per cent.
The agreed budget will leave the Council making cuts to services for 2013/14 of £27 million which will bring about 86 jobs losses, including redundancies, from the 18,000-plus workforce.
It means the Council’s running costs will be £453.4m, of which £182.9m is in the form of the revenue support grant, £138.2m from council tax income, £66.6m from localised business rates, £54.4m of top up grant, with £11.3m used from reserves. In addition there is a capital investment programme of £130.9m.
Council leader David Green told the meeting that the offer of a grant worth one per cent to freeze Council Tax was not a “helping hand” as it had been billed, but was merely “at best a finger to the people of the district”.
Councillor Green said: “Having already found £75m worth of cuts over the past couple of years, we now face three years where we are expected to find a further £82m in service cuts and financial reductions. We have to start asking ourselves, is the system of local government, is the system of local services that people of the district have come to expect and deserve – has it got a future given those financial attacks.
“This means that as a Council we are going to face further serious challenges in the delivery of services and what is needed is for a local authority not just to challenge those cuts, but to actually be realistic in preparing for what we need to do over the next few years.”
He added: “What has become clear, is that we can’t rely on this Government to deliver for the people of Bradford and we must take up that challenge ourselves to provide a sustainable, effective and positive future for the district we represent.”
Coun Green went on to criticise the Conservative’s amendment as “barmy”, although they were the only opposition group to draw up their own proposals.
Councillor Glen Miller, Tory group leader, went on the attack. He accused Labour of ‘battering’ the people of the district with a 1.99 per cent council tax increase.
He warned Labour that it had taken voters for granted in the 2012 Bradford West by-election, and had lost, and this Council Tax increase could result in the same.
“I think the residents of this district will realise you are hitting them in the pockets more than they need to be hit. You can blame the Government but let’s deal with the future for the residents of this district.”
He added: “You have taken away from the residents of this district the chance to hold a referendum for 0.1 per cent, because you know what the residents would have said.”
Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said that reforms of local government finance, such as business rates retention, put Bradford in charge of the money that it raises, which was a “better position” to be in. She called for people to work well together to make sure that it is Bradford that wins in the process and not neighbouring Leeds.
But she criticised Labour for agreeing in December to pass on the effect of Government cuts in Council Tax support received by the authority, leading to 34,000 claimants facing having to pay up to 25 per cent more.
Councillor Alyas Karmani, leader of the five-strong Respect group, admitted that Labour’s budgetary plan was a “good job in a terrible situation” and that he had to acknowledge that it was the “best worst option”.
Councillor Kevin Warnes, speaking on behalf of the Green group, backed the Labour plan, and criticised the Conservatives over the referendum issue on Council Tax, saying the Government set the rules and Bradford had stuck to them.
He added: “We know where the cuts are coming from and we are doing everything we can to defend the city against those cuts.”
Labour’s plan was backed by its own councillors, the Greens, The Independents and the Queensbury Independents. Meanwhile the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted against the package, while Respect councillors abstained.
As in previous years, members of the public and key groups provided an input into the budget process, prompting changes such as delaying the move from a seven-day-a-week mechanical street cleansing operation to five days to allow staff to be redeployed as extra recycling services are introduced; keeping two household waste sites – a replacement for Bowling Back Lane, and a further waste site at Sugden End in Keighley – and maintaining the same level of ward officers in each neighbourhood area.
Following the consultation, Labour agreed to find £1.25m for advanced skills training and support to boost the district's economy, skills and employment, and £250,000 to provide improved opportunities for young entrepreneurs.
An extra £500,000 has also been earmarked for highways and footpath maintenance.