Council tax freeze despite £9.6 million cuts
THERE is pain as well as gain as Bury Council’s budget package for the next financial year was formally approved.
Despite having to make council cuts of £9.6 million, residents face only a fractional rise in their council tax bill, a below-inflation increase in council house rents, and investment in housing and highways.
Bury Council chiefs froze their element of the council tax, and with no rise from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, only the police precept has risen, by 1.99 per cent.
As revealed in last week’s Bury Times, this means the overall council tax bill will increase by 0.2 per cent — equivalent to £2.97 per year for residents in Band D houses.
Council house rents will go up by 2.5 per cent, but is tempered by news that the local authority is to spend £34 million over three years upgrading its 8,000 homes with new heating, kitchens and bathrooms, roof repairs and environmental improvements.
Additionally, £500,000 is to be spent on a project to upgrade the A56 Bury New Road through Prestwich Village.
The renewed round of cuts will comprise £7.4 million in line with the budget agreed last year, plus a further £2.2 million of mostly internal efficiencies.
The measures were agreed at a special budget meeting of Bury Council last Wednesday.
Amendments put forward by the opposition Conservative and Lib Dem groups, each seeking a significant £2 million spend on essential road repairs, were defeated.
As part of their £3.576 million spending priorities programme, the Tories also unsuccessfully sought to create 52 new apprenticeships for young people and to reinstate free parking in all council pay and display sites in Bury.
In his budget speech, cabinet member for finance and corporate affairs, Cllr John Smith, told the meeting: “Once again we have seen vital grants such as the Early Intervention Grant slashed and once again we have been given a worse-than-average funding settlement with our funding allocation being cut by 9.9 per cent in 2014-15.
“This means that since the coalition came to power, we have lost £37 million a year of Government funding, which equates to a whopping £462 a year for every household in the borough.
“We already know that Bury’s Government support will be slashed once again in 2015-16, this time by an unbelievable 14.1 per cent, a percentage that is once again higher than the average. This leaves us facing budget cuts of £15.8 million in 2015-16, on top of the cuts that we have already been forced to make.
“We have continued to reduce our senior management structure, we have continued to make savings in the way that we procure goods and services and, with regret and reluctance, we have continued to restructure services and reduce overall staffing levels.”
Council leader Cllr Mike Connolly said: “Once again, we have before us a budget that demonstrates this Labour administration’s commitment to widespread consultation and it is a budget that continues our commitment to protect frontline services and services for the vulnerable.
“I am particularly pleased that we have found money to fund improvements to the A56 corridor in Prestwich, giving lie to the nonsense being touted around that Prestwich is being ignored.”
Conservative group leader Cllr Iain Gartside said: “We have consistently said council tax should be frozen. We welcome the decision. This is the right decision to make.”
Lib Dem leader Cllr Tim Pickstone added that the decision not to increase the local authority element of the council tax was possible thanks to a £772,000 grant from the coalition Government — equivalent to a 1.2 per cent increase in council tax for 2014-2015.
He said: “It is only a shame that Bury's Labour council didn’t take this free money last year.”