Friday, April 19, 2024

4.99% council tax rise passed

Council tax was set at a 4.99 per cent increase at last night’s (Thursday) West Berkshire Council budget meeting.

But the Tory-run administration was accused of balancing the books by dipping into council reserves.

The Liberal Democrats, confident of victory in the polls in May, did not put forward any amendments to the budget, saying they have tried for the past 18 years but have had their ideas constantly voted down by the Conservative block vote. 

They also pledged to hold an emergency budget if they tip that balance of power in May.

“If the public deliver change to control of this authority in May, then we will have to re-visit this budget to make sure that it can be delivered and to start the process of building back our reserves which have been raided seemingly without reservation,” said Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham West).

“We are unconvinced that the budget we are being asked to accept this evening is robust enough to get us through next year.”

The Greens did put in amendment proposals to the revenue budget – and scored a double win with a rare alliance with the Tories who agreed £25,000 for an additional road safety officer to implement school streets programme and a £5K contingency for watering trees on council land in the event of another drought.

The move prompted claims of ‘cosying up’ from the Lib Dem benches, which were met with equal derision from the other sides.

The council approved the 2023-24 revenue budget, which proposed a council tax requirement of £117.5m, requiring a council tax increase of 2.99 per cent and an adult social care precept of two per cent. 

The council tax will raise £3.3m, the precept will raise a further £2.2m, and an increased taxbase will raise a further £1.8m.

At a 4.99 per cent council tax increase, the budget is balanced, after using £1.8m of reserves that have been specifically set aside. 

The overall council tax increase is intended to balance the financial impact of the pandemic on residents, mitigating the financial pressures they face, as well as the cost pressures that the council faces.

“We have a responsibility to be as efficient as possible – and I’m delighted to say none of the savings means cuts to front line services,” said Ross MacKinnon (Con, Bradfield).

“Reserves in this budget are £20.7m. Reserves have actually risen in the last three years and that’s with Covid in the middle.”  

He attacked the Lib Dems saying their own plans were proposed to be funded by reserves.

“It’s a shame you guys couldn’t be bothered to put any amendments forward,” he added. “It’s a shame and a missed opportunity. What we have had is opposition by bluster and performance and tonight it has been half hearted.” 

The revenue budget was approved, with council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen) saying it had been the toughest budget in her eight years on the council, and paying tribute to the skills of the council officers who had made it happen.