Council Tax is to remain frozen for a third consecutive year as Bassetlaw’s Labour administration delivered its first budget since regaining power last May.
By opting not to increase tax for 2012/13, Bassetlaw Council can claim a Government grant for £139,200.
The decision at last Monday’s heated budget meeting came despite Government reducing the council’s grants by more than £3m in the last two years.
Portfolio holder for finance and property June Evans questioned what other business would be able to survive with a 27 per cent cuts in core funding.
“A reduction in funding and new legislation has had a significant impact on our budgets, and even more legislation will bring new challenges and threats to our financial wellbeing,” she said.
And added the budget reflected: “A zero council tax increase for the third year running; a balanced budget with no withdrawals from balances or reserves; £1.2m of service savings, and efficiencies; nearly £7m of investment in capital projects in the next financial year and £11.9m of new investment by the time we reach 2016/17.”
Coun Evans explained how 35 staff had asked to leave under voluntary redundancy and early retirement schemes brought in last summer.
“We have made some budget savings, but have paid the price in their lost expertise and service, that some have provided over a very long time,” she said.
“These requests enabled council to decrease its staffing capacity by 7.5 per cent.” And she warned: “Life will get harde rand difficult decisions must be made.”
Labour pointed towards the opening of the cinema later this month, the new Civic Square and the market move on to Bridge Street all happening since last May.
But Conservative councillors argued the market move and the cinema were projects born from their time in office.
Tory shadow finance portfolio holder Chris Wanless slammed the budget for ‘lacking ambition’ and ‘no growth whatsoever’.
“While the authority is utilising this Government’s grant to ensure that the organisation can again keep its Council Tax element at last year’s level, it’s disgusting the community will have to pay more for services it receives,” he said.
“This is particularly relevant with the increase in car parking charges proposed by this budget. Most users will have to pay considerably more to park in our town centres, and in some cases, previous free parking facilities will attract substantial charge which will clearly be detriment of people, shopping, working or even coming to spend time in the excellent leisure facilities the council previously invested in at the Canch.”
Coun Wanless added: “How much more will town centre trade be affected with the further out of town centre supermarket proposals? Rather than Bassetlaw’s open for business - your proposals are the catalyst to the close down of our town centres.”
Labour maintained the charges will still be cheaper than Rotherham, Doncaster, Newark or Mansfield and highlighted free parking for cinema visitors, as well as concessions leading up to Christmas. Coun David Pressley, cabinet member and portfolio holder for community prosperity, defended Labour’s decision to increase charges in Worksop and Retford. “The plans will provide a better parking option with more flexibility,” he said. “We also meet with market traders and shop keepers and they are supportive of this.”
“We are reducing the price in short stay car parks from 60p to 50p. In long stay car parks it will cost you £1 for two hours and the third hour is free if you have a loyalty card. Up to four hours it’s £1.50 and all day it’s £3 - we approved that at cabinet.”
In response to criticisms that the Tories failed to present an alternative budget by Labour, opposition leader Mike Quigley defended his party’s right not to. “We are left with a short fall and this is the first budget in recent time there have been no revenue bids for service improvements - that’s a sad day for the district,” he said. “The savings that could have been made have not been made and this council could have been stronger in the coming years through these difficult times.”
Bassetlaw Council leader Graham Oxby commended coun Evans for a ‘superb display’ by ‘one of the best cabinet holders the council has seen for a very long time’.
The budget was carried after 27 councillors voted for and 15 against, signalling the end of the debate following four hours of political mudslinging.