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‘Modest council tax rise to offer fairest deal for the district’
2:22pm Friday 1st March 2013 in News
Bradford Council’s ruling Labour group has unveiled its final budget proposals ahead of a series of crunch meetings at the authority this week.
Councilor David Green detailed how his first budget as leader “offers the fairest deal” possible “given the huge reduction in resources” at the authority. And that for a “modest” 1.99 per cent increase in council tax, “it delivers investment in the economy, infrastructure, jobs and innovation”.
In proposing the first council tax increase in three years, the leader of the Council added that balancing the budget had been made event more difficult because of late Government announcements, unexpected cuts to grants and last- minute changes to the rules.
He cited the withdrawal of £62m of financial credits which would have helped fund a £300m 25-year waste deal across Bradford and Calderdale, announced late last week, which necessitated some additional changes to their budget proposals for 2013/14.
Key changes outlined in the final budget proposals include 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; and maintaining the same level of ward officers in each neighbourhood area.
New additions also include a boost to the district’s economy, skills and employment, through £1.25m for advanced skills training and support and £250,000 to provide improved opportunities for young entrepreneurs, as well as the creation of a £200,000 sponsorship fund for events and activities that attract visitors and promote the district.
Furthermore, £40,000 of funding would be found to deliver a City Run in Bradford and £130,000 towards events associated with the Tour de France in 2014.
Extra money would also be earmarked for highways and footpath maintenance and to promote improved road safety, as well an investments to be made in existing allotments in the district.
Coun Green explained how a £2.1m contribution from the Schools Forum to help Early Years Services deal with Government cuts to the Early Intervention Grant would be accepted. This follows proposals that much of the reduction of £7.5m in the Early Intervention Grant used to fund children's centres and early years be absorbed by making savings in other services.
The changes follow consultation with taxpayers and reflect some of the key issues raised. It is now a £27m cuts package instead of the initial £30m level of savings proposed.
Coun Green said: “We are working hard to protect priority services. But the harsh reality is that it is impossible to achieve reductions on the scale required by Government without having to make very difficult choices about the services the Council provides, how it provides them, what it reduces, what it charges for and what it stops.
“The Council is confronted with some very tough decisions and there will be more to come, but we are mindful of the need to invest in the long term future of the district, to attract business and protect jobs, education and support our young people, delivery good local services to keep neighbourhood safe and clean, and to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens get the help that they need when they need it.”
In the last two years £72m has been stripped out of the Council’s operating budget, with a further deficit of £83m predicted over the next three years.
Ilkley MP Kris Hopkins has strongly criticised Bradford Council’s decision to reject the Government’s offer to freeze Council Tax for a third successive year and instead increase bills by 1.99 per cent – the maximum rise allowed without triggering a public vote.
Mr Hopkins, a former leader of Bradford Council, said: “By cynically increasingly Council Tax bills by 1.99 per cent, the Labour leadership of Bradford Council have sought to extract the maximum amount they can from the pockets of local residents whilst deliberately avoiding the need for a public vote.
“By going above the one per cent threshold, they have also waived their right to a Government grant and will instead collect this money directly and exclusively from the people of Bradford district.
“This politically-motivated, short-sighted and pig-headed decision makes no financial sense and is certainly not in the interests of local residents.
“Labour councillors should hold their heads in collective shame.”