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Bury Budget Council 22 February 2012

by timpickstone on 23 February, 2012

Last night was Bury’s Budget Council, where councillors get to set the budget and level of Council Tax for the new financial year which starts on 1 April 2012.

Getting the good news out the way, the rise in the Council Tax from 1 April 2012 will be 0% (no increase). This is thanks to a grant from the Coaltion Government for the second year running to keep Council Tax at 2010-11 levels.

The rest of the budget was more challenging. As with the whole public sector, budget setting is not an easy task at the present time following the financial mess that the last Labour Government left the country in. Bury has to reduce its expenditure by about £17.7 million over the next three years (2012-2015) – though it has already reduced it’s expenditure this year by over £14 million.

The Labour administration that took control of Bury last may embarked on what it called the ‘biggest consultation Bury has ever seen’. (As I pointed out last night they managed to ask more people what they thought who didn’t even live in Bury, than people who live in Prestwich….)

Yet our concern hasn’t been with the consultation, it has been with what has happened afterwards. Labour have set out their proposals for the next three years of spending – they call it their ‘Plan for Change’. We do not support the plan:

The plan has some big numbers in it, but very little detail. It tells that 1/6th of the budget for Libraries is going to be reduced, but doesn’t tell us which of the 17 libraries will close. It announces massive savings in budget areas which include pay, but doesn’t tell anyone (least of all the staff of the Council) how many redundancies there will have to be. It announces an extra £1/2 million in charges – starting in a few weeks time – but doesn’t say what these are.

We were being asked to vote for a budget that we didn’t know what it contained. As I said last night we’ve gone from the what was meant to be the biggest consultation ever, to the most secretive budget ever.

– unimaginative
We also believe that what Labour are proposing is unimaginative. There must be huge scope for saving money NOT by cutting frontline services, but by being more efficient in how we work. Why are we not sharing services with other local councils or other public organisations? Why are we not looking at how charities can provide services, or cooperatives, or social enterprises?

The Council has to save £7 million in 2012-13 – yet we currently spend just under £7 million a year in paying staff to be off sick. Of course everyone needs to be off sick if they are unwell, but Bury has a sickness rate nearly three days a year more than what is achieved in the private sector – event bringing the rate down to what is achieved in other Labour-run local councils would save £1,5 million. Are the Labour group looking at this?, doesn’t look like it.

– Cruel
Most importantly I believe what Bury’s Labour group proposed is cruel. They asked the people of Bury what they thought, and clear No1 priority for spending was support for vulnerable people. What do they do with this? They make the biggest cuts – over £4 million when you add them up – to services for vulnerable people: children’s centres, disabled children’s travel to school, elderly care services. Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government have recognised the pressures and are giving councils MORE money to help with social care. What’s Bury doing? It’s putting £1.6 million of this extra money as a ‘saving’, not spending it on the social care its meant to be spent on.

This main budgetary proposal is always added to be minor amendments on the night from the different party groups:

Labour’s amendment (which we support) was for:
– more money for the youth service (though bizarrely they only funded this for one year out of the council’s reserves)
– free parking for blue badge holders in car parks
– free parking again for the over 2 hours users on the Fairfax Road car park in Prestwich

The Conservative’s proposals (we voted in favour, Labour voted against and these have not been carried)
– dog enforcement warden
– 30 minutes free parking in Bury Town Centre
– more money for voluntary organisations
– £1/2 million for pot hole repairs

The Liberal Democrat Group amendment (which obviously we supported, but voted down by Labour councillors)
– community wardens in each of the six township areas of Bury to deal with litter, graffiti and minor repairs
– a fund (these two schemes would mean a total investment of £1 million over three years) to invest in our town centres, particularly outside of Bury Town Centre (because It’s had its fair share of private sector investment recently) to help boost the local economy
– free parking for over the 2 hours at the Fairfax Road car park (the same proposal that Labour made).

The main Labour budget was, not surprisingly carried. Liberal Democrat councillors abstained because we couldn’t support the cruel cuts that were being proposed.

Housing Revenue Budget

Councillors also voted on the housing revenue budget for 2012/13. The most interesting thing here was a proposal, supported by all three parties, to reduce the rent increase for council houses by about 1.5% to 6.2% to reduce the burden on tenants.

I did ask what the impact of this was on the 30 year plan for investment and repairs, as I think it will have a very detrimental effect, but the Labour councillors didn’t seem to know how to answer……

All in all a very long night…

Any questions please ask. The full papers for the meeting are here. TIm

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