How funding for pilot scheme to address mental health in Calderdale schools secured budget plans

Liberal Democrat Group Leader Coun James Baker
Liberal Democrat Group Leader Coun James Baker

Funding for a pilot scheme aimed at addressing the mental health issues and well-being of school age children was the pivot around which Liberal Democrat support for Labour’s Calderdale Council Budget swung.

Calderdale is a hung council, with all three major parties trying to win support at Monday’s (February 25) Budget Council, but the likeliest deal set to be done between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

This was indicated at the start of the meeting when in addition to two amendments already tabled by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats for their own budgets, Labour tabled a third which offered support for increasing grit bins, tackling climate change and maintaining war memorials cross Calderdale.

Debate on proposals put forward by Liberal Democrat Group Leader Coun James Baker (Warley) grew heated at times, not least over the mental health issues proposal which had been raised by Coun Amanda Parsons-Hulse (Lib Dem, Warley) at full council recently.

Councillor Baker said his group’s proposals delivered improved services with fewer cuts using some innovative revenue raising ideas including Crowdfunding for some projects – but faced criticism from councillors of other groups over whether some of the proposals would work, for example asking better off residents to voluntarily pay more Council Tax.

But Coun Baker said: “As Liberal Democrat councillors we believe in the good of people – and given the opportunity they will do good.”

He criticised Labour’s enforcement record, saying the council had been a “soft touch” not enforcing rules and parts of the borough were “a filthy mess” through blight like fly-tipping.

This view was challenged by Coun Adam Wilkinson (Lab, Sowerby Bridge) who said the idea Halifax was some sort of run down slum was “absolute nonsense” and suggesting budget savings by voluntary council tax was “very risky.”

Coun Baker responded: “Halifax is a mess, think about the people in Pellon, it’s been on the BBC news.”

Coun Chris Pearson (Con, Greetland and Stainland) said the Lib Dem proposals were populist measures in what his dubbed “pick ‘n’ mix” budget proposals.

Coun Anne Collins (Lab, Ovenden) went further and said: “It’s about an election campaign and about leaflets.”

She said she was concerned a “pet project” – the young people’s mental health proposal – had been proposed when Liberal Democrat Deputy Group Leader Coun Ashley Evans (Warley) chaired a working group which reported on progress being made in this area. It could duplicate work already commissioned.

Coun Parsons-Hulse took issue with this and said the notion it was self-interested was an “appalling” accusation. The Liberal Democrat proposals differed because they addressed issues faced by children living in trauma who could not speak about their problems, she said.

Conservative Group Leader Coun Scott Benton (Brighouse) attacked proposals to reduce grants to ward forums and increase Council Tax payable on empty properties arguing the latter could be counter-productive.

Leader of the Council, Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town) said: “This is a budget for the next leaflet – what we need is a budget for Calderdale.”

The Liberal Democrat budget amendment was defeated – but at the end of the night they were able strike a deal with Labour to include some funding for town centre enforcement, street cleaning, and the mental health pilot.

Coun Baker tweeted that the latter was a key factor in his group supporting Labour’s budget, which was then approved.