COUNCILLORS voted tonight to approve “the most devastating budget ever to be discussed” in Bradford City Hall.

The budget that was voted for this evening will see Council Tax rise by 4.99 per cent, three tips and a children’s activity centre shut and costs for services like parking rise.

And it is just the start of a years long programme of cuts.

During the Council’s annual budget meeting this evening, opposition Councillors blamed the Labour leadership for years of failure, particularly when it came to Children’s Services.

But Labour and some Councillors from other parties blamed Government for the financial situation. One compared the Government’s funding of local Councils to “a landlord who deliberately sets fire to their house after forcing the tenants to sell off the fire extinguishers.”

Last week, the Government revealed it would grant “exceptional financial support” to Bradford and 18 other Councils.

It will allow the Council to hold off bankruptcy by filling its budget gaps with £220m over two years – to be funded through a mix of borrowing and the sale of properties.

But financial stability will also require around £35m worth of cuts each year for the next five years.

It meant cuts first proposed earlier this year – including the closure of Golden Butts (Ilkely), Sugden End (Cross Roads) and Ford Hill (Queensbury) tips and the Ingleborough Hall children’s activity centre in North Yorkshire, as well as over 100 jobs remained on the chopping block, despite opposition from tens of thousands of residents.

At the meeting Councillors were asked to vote on two options – the Labour budget or a Conservative amendment, that would keep all the tips, but shut every tip in the District for an extra day a week, as well as scrapping a planned new leisure centre in Squire Lane.

The Labour budget passed by 51 votes to 26, although there was surprise in the chamber when Keighley West Labour Councillor Julie Lintern voted against her own party’s budget.

Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe said Government had cut over £350m from the Council’s budget since 2010, adding: “After 14 years of austerity we stand here having to vote for yet more cuts.

“The Government tells us we have to be a smaller Council in the future, all at a time when demand for services has never been higher.”

Referring to some of the petitions against cuts – such as one to save the Sugden End tip and another to prevent the introduction of parking charges in Idle, Cllr Hinchliffe thanked petitioners, but said: “We can’t afford to run all these services any more.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Council Leader Susan HinchcliffeCouncil Leader Susan Hinchcliffe (Image: Newsquest)

Councillor Mike Pollard, finance spokesman for the Conservatives, said the Council was “mired in the biggest financial crisis since local Government reorganisation over 50 years ago.”

He said his party’s budget would scrap plans for parking charges at Ilkley Lido, retain the three tips, on the basis that every tip in the district close two days a week to save cash, and change every library in the District that is run by the Council to a “hybrid model” staffed by a mix of Council employees and volunteers.

The closure of Ingleborough Hall would also be delayed under the Conservative budget.

Conservative Leader Rebecca Poulsen said the support from Government “is a way forward, but we never should have allowed this to happen.”

She acknowledged the services Councils are charged by external providers for much needed children’s placements were too expensive and need reforming. But she added: “It is the failure of leadership of children’s services, failure so bad that the Council was deemed not capable of running it. It failed under your watch.”

Cllr Poulsen criticised the budget for failing to have any extra funding to deal with fly tipping that would arise from residents dumping their waste after their local tips closed. She added: “The idea that fly tipping won’t increase is absolutely rubbish.”

Councillor Brendan Stubbs, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “This budget will weigh heavy on the shoulders of our residents for years to come.”

He said the increased debt from the planned borrowing would mean in future “£1 from every £12 raised through tax will be used to pay off Labour’s credit card.”

But he said it was an issue facing Councils across the country, and that the Conservative Government was “neglecting its duty to fund public services” adding: “This won’t change while the Conservatives are in charge.

“This is an awful budget, but it is accompanied by Conservative Government failures.”

Councillor Matt Edwards, Leader of the Greens, said: “There is no other way to describe this budget than brutal.”

He pointed out that estimates show around one in five Councils across the country are likely to declare bankruptcy in the next year, adding: “The Conservatives’ claim that this is all down to financial mismanagement in Bradford is not credible. If Labour ran the Council perfectly, we would still face financial trouble.

“Bradford residents will pay more Council Tax for fewer services. Without change there will be more budgets like this next year and the year after.”

But he claimed nationally the Labour Party did not seem in a position to make any significant change to the country’s finances.

Councillor Sue Duffey, portfolio holder for children and families, said the Government support came with the proviso that the Council slash its spending. She said: “In order to get this support we have to reduce spending even further, cutting services communities rely on.”

Councillor Sarah Ferriby, portfolio holder for healthy people and places, said the Government was “out of touch with reality” for not realising the impact of their lack of funding for local councils.

Councillor Joe Wheatley (Lab, Bingley) said: “Successive Conservative Government have robbed Councils of their funding, requiring them to sell off community assets.

“It is as if they are a landlord that has deliberately set their house on fire after forcing the tenants to sell off their fire extinguishers.”

He argued that just one tenth of the money Government spent on the test and trace system during Covid could fill the funding gap for all UK Councils.

He said if the Council had gone bankrupt, the Government would have sent in Commissioners to run the authority’s finances, and they would “cut services without thought.”

Councillor Chris Hayden (Lab, Idle and Thackley) said: “This is the most devastating budget to ever be discussed in this building. It will define all our future choices.”

Blaming Government for cuts to local services, he said: “The taxpayer are paying the price for Westminster incompetence.”

Councillor Talat Sajawal, leader of the Bradford Independent Group, said his constituents in Little Horton had used phrases like “incompetent” to describe the Labour leadership.

He said: “They have carried on spending our depleted reserves to cover up their mismanagement. It wasn’t the Government that ran Children’s Services into the ground, it was Labour Management.”

Addressing Cllr Hinchcliffe he said: “For eight years to led Children’s Services, and it got worse year on year. It can’t go on like this. For the people of Bradford, you need to go.”

Referring to the criticism of Government, Cllr Pollard claimed even if the Council was given all the funding Labour had wanted, it still wouldn’t balance the budget. He added: “This is far more serious than just national pressures.”