Deal struck between Labour and Lib Dems as Calderdale Council budget approved

Calderdale Council leader Councillor Tim Swift
Calderdale Council leader Councillor Tim Swift

As the midnight hour approached, Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors struck a deal allowing Calderdale Council to approve its budget for 2019-20.

The Liberal Democrats won some extra concessions from their own proposals with funding committed to pay for a pilot scheme for addressing mental health issues in schools being the key to reaching the compromise agreement at Halifax Town Hall last night (Monday, February 25).

Budgets submitted by the opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat Groups had been debated and rejected earlier in the evening – but with votes tied at 24 for and 24 against, with Mayor of Calderdale Coun Marcus Thompson (Con, Skircoat) abstaining, Labour were unable to pass their budget without changes either.

Calderdale is a hung council, and with 49 of the 51 councillors present in deadlock, an hour of trade-offs began, eventually resulting in the deal.

It commits Calderdale to spending £160.8 million to run the authority next year, Labour’s “standstill” budget but with new growth elements from the Liberal Democrat proposals added.

The budget also means a three per cent rise in Council Tax for the borough’s citizens and budgets for succeeding years 2020-21 and 2021-22 only have a framework rather than the usual detail while some key Government funding decisions are made.

Conservatives were disappointed their centrepiece proposal, which would see some of the council’s looked-after children to access a private education in a residential setting, which they said would not only benefit the children concerned but also save Calderdale money, was not included but hope it will be discussed in detail by councillors as an option going forward.

Without it, they felt compelled to vote against the budget, said Group Leader Coun Scott Benton (Con, Brighouse).

With midnight striking at the end of a marathon six hour Budget Council meeting, Deputy Leader of the Council, Coun Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden), was able to say: “We are all pleased we reached agreement. A practical budget is hopefully now going to be approved.”

Added to Labour’s budget, which will allow the council to retain its level of service next year largely without impacting on front line services, are some growth proposals – which carry a cost – tabled by Group Leader Coun James Baker’s (Lib Dem, Warley) Liberal Democrats.

Some of the proposals Leader of the Council Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town) and Labour colleagues had already agreed to adopt, at times in modified form, at the start of the meeting.

In total the growth areas include a 20 per cent in the increase of grit bins (£30,000), some finance to speed proposals to tackle Climate Emergency (£60,000), a one-off £50,000 to maintain and improve war memorials in the borough, £50,000 more (rising to £100,000 in years two and three) to spend on town centre enforcement and street cleaning and the £50,000 funding for that key pilot scheme for addressing mental health and well-being issues in school age children and young people.

Labour’s proposals had already proposed £890,000 worth of savings including commercialisation, modernisation programmes, using digital technology and reviewing members’ allowances, services and the cost of democracy including scrapping the role of Deputy Mayor.

To fund the new growth areas adopted following the agreement between the two parties, compensatory savings will need to be found by re-introducing charging the National Health

Service for disposing of clinical waste, meeting the grit bin cost from within approved growth of the council’s Winter Services budget and reviewing further members’ training and attendance at conferences.