Calderdale Conservative budget plan rejected but hopes key element will be discussed in future

Conservative Group Leader Scott Benton
Conservative Group Leader Scott Benton

Calderdale’s Conservatives saw their spending and saving plans rejected at Calderdale Council’s Budget Council meeting (Monday, February 25) – but hope a centrepiece will be discussed by the authority in the future.

Conservative Group Leader Scott Benton said innovative proposals had to be introduced to solve savings issues, an education proposal being to allow a number of the council’s looked after children to access private education, safeguarding their pastoral and emotional needs and saving the council a great deal of money.

Councillor Benton (Brighouse) said the Conservative budget proposals would protect things like museums while making sure there was enough money to pay for front line services.

“Our budget offers a balanced way forward across Calderdale in terms of delivering front line services and taking the public with us on that journey to do so,” he said.

He said several London councils shared services which meant savings required would be far less.

His group’s budget proposals meant change. “It means looking radically at resources like we have never done before. Can we share services, make efficiencies – and how radical can we be to do so,” he said.

Using council reserves had ramped up budget pressures further and 24 previous savings targets had not been met by the council, he said.

More money for front line services would come from making sure non-essential expenditure was reduced.

These included extra money for the Safer Cleaner Greener project to improve tackling of local issues including reducing crime, extra money for libraries and removal of some parking charges.

The council had to be innovative and funding to help Calderdale’s high streets was one such measure.

To help pay for the proposals measures to save money would also include reducing the number of councillors, only holding elections every four years and capping pay rises for senior council officers.

Coun Susan Press (Lab, Todmorden) took issue with the Conservative portrayal of Labour’s Library Review – libraries did much more than 30 years ago but some of the buildings the council currently had were not fit for purpose including “horrible dilapidated” portable buildings, she said, and the aim was to explore with communities how services might best be provided.

“It is about delivering a service for 2018-19, not 1919,” said Coun Press.

Coun Jane Scullion (Lab, Luddenden Foot) took exception to opposition party portrayals of the council as unambitious. “This is a council and administration that’s really very ambitious for all the people of Calderdale,” she said, citing a good with excellent aspects children’s services Ofsted report.

But there was support for the private schooling for looked after children from Conservative councillors, with Coun Colin Peel (Brighouse) calling the proposal, worked out with council officers by Coun Stephen Baines (Northowram and Shelf), “an absolute gem” saving £325,000 and benefiting the children.

Coun Peel said he would even vote for Labour’s budget if that one measure was included in it.

Coun Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden) said the Conservatives had delivered their budget proposals so late other parties had not seen the detail.

Coun Carol Machell (Lab, Todmorden) questioned the £325,000 saving figure but Coun Baines said it had been signed off by the council’s finance chiefs.

Coun Benton hoped whatever the budget outcome at the end of the evening – Labour’s proposals were approved with Liberal Democrat support in return for budget additions – the looked after children schooling proposal would be looked at closely by the council in the months ahead.