Friday, 27 February 2015

Politics: Council Tax frozen, but £9.4m must be saved in next 3 years

Residents will see a freeze in Council Tax for two years, but the council has to find £9.4 million savings by 2018.

The Conservative-led administration worked with the Liberal Democrats to pass its budget.
Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf), leader of the council, told the meeting: “There are very few changes to the budget for 2015/16, but the Council Tax still remains as a zero increase as in the agreement last year.

“The major changes in our budget come in in 2017/18. We’ve always firmly believed that this should be decided after consultation with the general public, which is why we haven’t put forward any firm proposals,” he said.

“We’ve put forward some rough headings which are not set in concrete, so the general public can say what their priorities are.”

The budget was roundly criticised by the opposing Labour group.

Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town), leader of the Labour group, said: “The Conservative budget lacks imagination, provides no sense of vision for the future and puts off any meaningful decisions until after the election.”

The main concern about the budget highlighted by both the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups is a £2.6 million cut to discretionary services - this includes libraries, leisure centres, winter gritters, public toilets, children’s centres and youth services.

An alternative budget put forward by the Labour group was blocked, because although Labour are the largest party on the council, they are one member short of an overall majority.

Coun Swift said that until a few minutes prior to the meeting the Labour group were expecting to be supported by the Liberal Democrat group.

The Mayor of Calderdale Coun Pat Allen (Lib Dem, Elland) sought legal advice before casting a deciding vote supporting the Conservative-led administration’s budget.

Coun Janet Battye (Lib Dem, Calder), leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “We had hoped to support the Labour budget, but what we really wanted was cross-party consensus.

“Our concern with the Cabinet proposals is that discretionary services look as though they may take the biggest hit in terms of expected savings in two years time - these are the bulk of the services that we know local people want and value - so we’ve got qualms about both of the budgets,” she said.
“No green proposals have been put forward - we want to take action on affordable warmth and we want the council to get to grips with its use of energy.”

Amendments put forward by the Liberal Democrat group which include measures to reduce energy usage in council buildings by 20 per cent and to set aside £1.4 million to improve insulation in social housing were passed when the Labour group abstained from voting.

A further amendment by the Labour group to inject a further £35,000 of investment into the Orangebox young people’s centre, Halifax, was passed unanimously.

Councillors from both the Conservative and Labour groups were reprimanded by the Mayor during the meeting for heckling and jeering during the debate.

LIB DEMS’ WARMTH PLANS

The Liberal Democrat group put forward two green amendments to the Cabinet’s budget which include plans for affordable warmth and to improve energy efficiency within council buildings.


The proposals will put a target on Calderdale Council to reduce it’s energy output by 20 per cent over the next five years by introducing energy saving light bulbs and solar panels to council buildings.

Coun James Baker (Lib Dem, Warley), deputy leader of Liberal Democrat group, said: “This proposal will reduce our energy bills as a council, reduce our energy consumption and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

“We really want to see this nailed - there’s been a lot of talk about this in the council for a long time, but we don’t think there has been enough action on it.

“It’s not costing the taxpayer anything, and hopefully in five years’ time the taxpayer will start to see the savings.”

The second amendment will set aside £1.4 million for an ‘affordable warmth’ scheme that will bring about savings to the health service of an estimated £4 million.

Coun Baker said: “If people live in warm, insulated homes then they are less likely to be admitted to hospital wth cold-related illnesses.”

The amendment was passed, but the Labour group abstained from voting.

Coun Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden), deputy leader of the Labour group, told the Liberal Democrat group: “Our party is passionate about affordable warmth and we would have been happy to support this amendment.

“We absolutely agree with the proposals, but had there been an attempt to provide an arrangement for the budget with you we would have been able to support this amendment,” he said.

NO SUPPORT FOR LABOUR’S BUDGET

The Labour group failed to get the support of the Liberal Democrat group to push forward its alternative budget proposals.


The amendment outlined plans to put £50,000 aside to look into building new homes for rent; a new swimming pool and leisure centre for Halifax; a Capital Investment Fund to help with the repairs of historic buildings including Halifax Borough Market and Todmorden Market; funding for those in urgent financial need; and further investment in flood defence schemes at Mytholmroyd.

Coun Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden), deputy leader of the Labour group, told the meeting: “We’ve tried to create an alternative proposal that meets the needs of Calderdale and meets the hopes and aspirations for the future.

“There is a major problem with housing up and down the country. It’s in part caused by the failure of the market to deliver the housing that people need; it’s also to do with the major difficulty that registered landlords and social landlords are in at the moment,” he said.

“Nobody in the Labour party is saying we want to go back to the old style of council housing - it’s about saying that councils building houses for rent could make a contribution to a problem that is really serious in our community.”

Coun Scott Benton (Con, Brighouse), deputy council leader, told the meeting: “The introduction to Labour’s budget outlines a courageous and imaginative response to government funding plans.

“After such a grand introduction, you can imagine my disappointment to find a budget so inherently flawed that it was difficult to believe that this Labour group couldn’t have come up with anything better,” he said.
“It’s a budget full of undeliverable savings, of poorly conceived proposals and one which places the council in unnecessary risk in these challenging times.

“It’s a budget of higher taxes, more borrowing and one which shows the Labour party really hasn’t learnt anything whatsoever.”

The proposals were met with a deadlock of 25 votes for and 25 against meaning that the motion fell.

YOUTH CENTRE TO GET £35k TO KEEP ITS DOORS OPEN

A budget amendment put forward by the Labour group to inject £35,000 into the Orangebox youth centre was given unanimous backing by the council.


The centre in Halifax town centre, which opened in 2013, has recently appointed a new director and is struggling financially to keep its doors open.

Coun Megan Swift (Lab, Town) told the meeting: “What they are planning on doing is closing the doors most of the time - where there is open access at the Orangebox at the moment, they are talking about perhaps opening for two nights during the week and on Saturdays.

“I don’t think when we talk about the Orangebox that’s what we want from it - I asked the new director what we need to give to keep the doors open,” she said.

“The Orangebox was supposed to be a standalone charity from this April, but unfortunately they’re nowhere near ready, so that has been put off until April 2016.”

Although the amendment was given cross-party backing, Coun Howard Blagbrough (Con, Brighouse) told the meeting: “I’d like to support this amendment, but I would suggest that the matter is taken to scrutiny to be discussed further.”

Coun Janet Battye (Lib Dem, Calder), leader of the Liberal Democrat group, agreed with Coun Blagbrough.

She said: “I’m disappointed that it has come to this. I think it’s important that the council supports it, but there must be no expectation that because we sign one cheque for £35,000 that next week there will be another and before we know where we are we’re into long-term subsidy with virtually a blank cheque.

“I think we should wish them well, but we should ask that their business plan to come to scrutiny as soon as it can,” she said.



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