Calderdale Council’s ruling Labour Group said its budget protected front line services, the most vulnerable and provided extra cash for pressures it knew would be coming for social care.
Group Leader and Leader of the Council, Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town) said: “It is competent, balanced and sound.”
Councillors approved the budget at Budget Council at Halifax Town Hall after a debate lasting late into the evening (Monday, February 25) – but only when Labour made extra concessions to Liberal Democrat proposals to get the necessary majority to get a deal through.
Leader of the Council, Coun Swift (Lab, Town) said the council had to set its budget against the backdrop of years of austerity, with government revenue support grant next year being less than half what the council had received in 2010-11 having cut more than £100 million from its budget since then, and challenges posed by rising children’s and adults’ social care costs.
“This is about taxes paid by local people, pooled centrally and less and less comes back to support local services,” he said.
It could not sensible plan for more than one year against a background of uncertainty as to how Government was going to fund councils in the future and other factors including Brexit, a green paper Government had pledged about the future of social care and a share of business rates.
“We have had continuing cash cuts at the same time as being asked to cope with increased social care services both for children and adults,” he said.
In addition to just under £1 million of savings which needed to be made next year, a further £3.5 million of savings agreed in previous budgets also needed to be found.
Labour’s proposals dealt with spending today, building towards a balanced, sustainable budget for next year, putting in additional resources into necessary social care services and also early intervention.
“That’s the only way the council can balance the books while austerity continues,” he said.
A first amendment adopted some Liberal Democrat proposals which he said his group thought were sensible, and at the end of the evening a second amendment adopting two more measures got the deal done.
Labour came under attack from Conservative and Liberal Democrat opponents, including its spending on capital funding projects.
Conservaties said the last Labour Government had left the country’s finances in such a state austerity had been necessary and been introduced in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
Coun Josh Fenton-Glynn (Lab, Calder Valley) countered a sixth of people working in the financial sector were from Halifax-based Lloyds Banking Group whose jobs were at risk from the international financial crash “if Labour hadn’t saved the economy.”
Conservative Group Leader Coun Scott Benton (Brighouse) claimed Labour had prioritised Halifax over other towns and villages in the borough, Coun Geraldine Carter (Con, Ryburn) said areas of rural poverty were not getting their share of funds and Coun Mike Payne (Con, Sowerby Bridge) accused Labour of spending money on “vanity projects” like Orangebox, Orincess Buildings and Northgate.
Coun Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden) said accusing Labour of funding “vanity projects” was a “cheap crack”
about funding important pieces of investment for the borough.
“They are not vanity projects, it’s about the future of this borough and we are doing it for every part of this borough,” he said, citing £10 million investment in Brighouse.
He added councillors on the Audit committee knew the council had been given an unqualified endorsement by auditors. “That wouldn’t happen if something was improper,” he said.
Both opposition parties criticised Labour for allowing Halifax and other parts of the borough to appear “dirty” and blighted by fly-tipping.
Liberal Democrat Group Leader Coun James Baker (Warley) parts of the borough were in a “filthy mess” but Coun Adam Wilkinson (Lab, Sowerby Bridge) said he challenged the view that Halifax was some sort of rundown slum – “it’s absolute nonsense,” he said.