SMALLER parties on Bolton Council have explained their voting decisions which led to the passing of a budget containing £35m of cuts and more than 200 jobs losses for council staff.

At last week’s budget meeting, the minority Conservative controlled council voted 28 to 22 to pass the budget.

All Conservative members voted in favour, with council leader Cllr David Greenhalgh acknowledging the ‘horrific’ decisions that the authority had to make, with previous financial pressures and the Covid pandemic creating a ‘perfect storm’,

The entire Labour group voted against, with their leader Cllr Nick Peel branding the budget ‘immoral’ and saying they ‘would play no part’ in its passing.

Bolton Liberal Democrat leader Roger Hayes has strongly defended his seven-strong group’s decision to abstain from voting last Wednesday.

“We could not support this budget and the cuts in services proposed,” said Councillor Hayes.

“We achieved two key objectives by agreeing to abstain with the reversal of a proposed pay cut for all council employees and support for the strongest anti-government amendment to make a robust demand to government for more funding – even the Conservatives agreed to back this,”

He added: ”What in all honesty did Labour achieve.

“It was just gesture politics and achieved nothing constructive.”

Horwich and Blackrod First Independents have two councillors who voted in favour of the budget.

Cllr Marie Brady set out their position.

She said: “Local authorities provide public services paid for from revenue.

“When the cost of those services is more than the revenue, the funding is in principle, topped up by government, or from council reserves.

“Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, every elected councillor was fully aware of the ongoing impact on council finances, the increased demand for services and the reduced income from revenue.

“The longer it went on, the worse the deficit became, when projected to the next financial year, a shortfall of £37m was identified.

“Delivering statutory and non-statutory services with such a deficit was never going to be simple.

“Options were presented, all councillors were invited to discuss and accept, reject and replace. Nobody wants to cut services, but how they are delivered must be questioned and reviewed. If there are better ways which meet the standards but cost less, the council has a responsibility to adopt those savings to provide best value to council tax payers.

“The budget was a result of councillor discussions and decisions, but by far the greatest problem has been consistent and persistent underfunding of local authorities by this and every previous government, by the use of reserves by previous administrations and depleted to the extent a warning was given in 2018, and by debts carried forward from 2018.

“It is also apparent that despite promises given by government ‘that no council would be left out of pocket in dealing with the effects of Covid’, that inadequate funding for adult social care would be addressed and the levelling up of the North/South divide, Bolton is yet to see has yet to see these promises kept.

“At the meeting all councillors knew setting a balanced budget is a legal requirement for every council.

“That failing to do so meant notifying the Secretary of State asking for government intervention.

“The budget presented met the demand for all statutory services and the majority of non-statutory services.

“No alternative budget was presented by Labour, the major opposition party.

“Their solution was to reject the proposed budget and invite unelected civil servants from Whitehall to come in and take that responsibility.

“The Lib Dems abstained, unable or unwilling to make any decision.

“We have worked constructively with the Conservative administration to deliver a balanced budget.

“To shirk the responsibility would have been morally wrong and a dereliction of those responsibilities.

“To invite others to take that responsibility would have sent a clear message to residents and private investors wanting to invest in this borough, bringing jobs, housing and future employment, that Bolton Council preferred to rely on scraps from the government rather than build its own future.

Cllr Paul Sanders from Farnworth and Kearsley First also set out why their councillors backed the budget.

He said: “This budget is horrific, gut wrenching.

“Wider cuts are devastating to contemplate and our borough has been dealt a very bad hand by government.

“The government said that no council would be worse off because of covid but that promise has shamefully been cast aside.

“But no alternative budgets have come forward.

“Councillors cannot stop these cuts however much we want to and however much we despise the government.

“What we can do is choose who manages these cuts.

“We can decide whether it is us sensitively with local knowledge and knowing the priorities of the people of the borough or we can simply hand the keys over to the commissioners from government to come in and cut what they want.

“I simply don’t trust them with our finances.”