Chaos erupts at budget meeting as council tax rises
9:30am Thursday 21st February 2013 in News
HUNDREDS of job losses, more than £40 million in spending cuts and a council tax rise have been approved by Bolton Council.
And police were called to the Town Hall to deal with a number of disruptions as councillors gathered inside to debate this year’s budget and a 3.5 per cent tax increase.
The budget also included £43.6 million in spending cuts which will come into force over the next two years, leading to the loss of up to 536 council posts and reductions in services such as highways maintenance, grass cutting, children’s services and funding for leisure and special events.
The borough’s Conservative group had opposed the council tax rise and offered its own alternative budget, which included reducing councillors’ allowances and the money spent on the authority’s top officers and union reps, but the plans were rejected by the ruling Labour group.
Following a vote, a budget for 2013/14 of £481,593,000 was approved, as well as a provisional budget of £473,419,000 for the following year, which assumes a two per cent council tax rise next year in addition to the 3.5 per cent increase this year.
Addressing the meeting, Bolton Council leader Cllr Cliff Morris said: “This budget will have a big impact on local services, local people and local jobs — it is impossible to cut further, on top of the £60 million we have already saved, without having a very serious impact.”
The Prime Minister had urged councils to freeze council tax and had offered Bolton a grant of £2 million over two years to keep it down, but Town Hall bosses claimed it would not be enough to prevent it having to axe services such as libraries and area forums.
The council has frozen tax for three of the last four years, but the rise will now see residents in band A properties paying an extra 63p per week, or £32.94 per year, raising an extra £1.7 million this year above what it would have received if it had accepted the grant.
Conservative leader Cllr David Greenhalgh said: “I don’t stand here this evening against the need for cuts, but I do stand here this evening and question the level these cuts are being disproportionately placed on the shoulders of local councils.”
But he said: “As Conservatives, we find it unacceptable to reduce the level of service a person receives, and then ask them to pay more for that service by putting their council tax up.”
Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Roger Hayes said: “The level of cuts made to Bolton’s budget over many years is horrendous, but the choices made to meet them are the Labour group’s and reflect their priorities.”
Following the rise, residents in Band D Properties will now pay £1,459.24 per year compared to £1,409.83 last year.
They will also pay an additional police precept of £149.33, and £57.64 for fire.
The government had put a cap on council tax rises of two per cent, meaning that any increase higher than that would trigger a town referendum.
But the council has calculated its rise excluding waste and transport levies and fire and police precepts, meaning its figure is technically 1.2 per cent.
Inclusion of the levies and precepts brings the figure up to 3.5 per cent.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles has accused councils who calculate their tax that way of “cheating” — a claim rejected by borough chiefs.
But Mr Pickles has pledged to crack down on the practice next year.