LEEDS’S most senior opposition councillor has urged the ruling administration to rethink its dumping of a raft of alternative budget proposals which he says would help steer the city through what he admits are “difficult” and “very tight” financial times.
Councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the Conservative Group on Leeds City Council, was speaking after the Labour-run authority rubber-stamped its £492m financial plan for the coming year, which includes a five per cent council tax rise and a raft of cost-cutting measures.
The city has lost £25m of its core Government funding for the coming year as part of wide-ranging cuts.
Councillor Carter, who - along with fellow opposition councillors - submitted 18 amendments to the budget, said: “It is disappointing that the administration chose not to accept any of our budget amendments.
“This is a very tight year financially for the council, but there are still local choices to be made about where we make savings and where we invest more money.
“That said, I was pleased that a number of our amendments won support from the other opposition groups, and I hope that the council will consider our proposals in the years ahead.
“We made a series of sensible suggestions that would have prioritised areas we think have been badly handled by the administration, such as investing in road maintenance, expanding brown bin collections, investing more in our neighbourhood networks and older people’s care, and reversing the parking charge increases. These are areas that would have made a real difference to Leeds council tax payers.”
Ideas tabled had also included slashing trade union subsidies. Conservative councillors also suggested the creation of a new £5m fund to boost regeneration on brownfield land, with the money to come from additional borrowing.
Coun Carter added: “I accept that the budget situation in Leeds is difficult and has been for a number of years. Yet the council still has a revenue budget of £492m for the coming year.”
Wednesday’’s four and a half hour budget debate at Leeds Civic Hall ended with the greenlighting of a five per cent council tax rise.
The widely anticipated hike means the average Band D bill will go up by £70 from April.
Leader of the council Judith Blake was scathing about the impact of continuing Government funding cuts on the city’s services, but said Leeds had proved itself to be “strong and resilient” in the face of “huge pressure”.
However she also stressed: “There is no doubt that we still have huge challenges [and] persistent inequalities blight many of our communities.”
Despite the opposition criticism, only TWO of 93 councillors in the Leeds Civic Hall chamber yesterday voted against the budget proposals as they stood.
There were 58 votes for the plans and 33 abstentions.
The political make-up of Leeds City Council is Labour 61 councillors and 38 made up of other political groups. Of the two largest opposition groups, the Conservatives have 19 councillors and the Lib Dems 9.
Commenting on the raft of cuts and savings laid out in the budget - which also include an end to free bulky waste collections and “efficiencies” in maintenance of the city’s parks and open spaces - councillor Stewart Golton, leader of the Lib Dem group, said there was “an inevitability that we must consider which services we can do without”.
However he urged colleagues across the parties not to “watch the spiral of decline” and instead help shape positive change together.