There was plenty of the usual party political bluster and showmanship at today’s budget setting meeting at Leeds Civic Hall - but not much for taxpayers to shout about.
The four hour spectacle - which saw a council tax increase of 4.99 per cent voted through without too much debate - was dominated by party politics as council leader Judith Blake reflected on “an extraordinarily difficult year” for the city’s finances and warned: “It is not going to get easier”.
In her hour-long budget speech, Coun Blake said that “despite the challenges facing us, our great city of Leeds has flourished, bucking national trends working to deliver a strong economy in a compassionate city”.
She said the city’s economy “continues to be strong, acting as the powerhouse of the city region and providing opportunities for local people while redeveloping areas that have been in decline for some year” despite losing £267m of its core Government funding in recent years.
In a wide ranging speech, she emphasised the need for devolution powers for Yorkshire - and hit out repeatedly at Tory Government austerity.
There was praise, however, for the council’s staff, as the leader also confirmed that the authority is to introduce the Living Wage Foundation’s suggested £8.75 minimum pay rate per hour for all its employees.
“That’s a REAL living wage delivered by Labour in Leeds, leading by example,” she said.
There were some lively exchanges with the opposition benches, although all but one of the 30 budget amendments which had been suggested were voted down.
Councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the biggest opposition Conservative group, criticisedCoun Blake’s budget speech, adding that “any Government Minister listening to what you have to say will take some persuading that Leeds is a pragmatic, forward looking local authority that wants to work in partnership”.
But deputy council leader James Lewis hit back, claiming that while the ruling Labour administration hadlaid out a “clear plan for delivering a compassionate city in the teeth of Tory austerity”, there had been nothing but “a load of random nonsense” from the opposition benches.
COMFORT FOR GRIEVING FAMILIES - AND EXTRA SUPPORT FOR MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
Parents and guardians in Leeds who lose a child under the age of 16 will no longer have to pay for the child to be buried or cremated.
Council leader Judith Blake today announced £240,000 of extra funding to provide a bereavement service for families of children where either a parent or sibling has died.
Councillor Blake said: “While nothing can ever compensate for the loss of a child, I am pleased we are able to announce parents and guardians in Leeds who lose a child under the age of 16 will no longer have to pay for their child to be buried or cremated.
“I’m pleased that we can also invest in a new bereavement service for families with children where a parent or sibling has died. “Bereavement in childhood can impact on academic achievement and child behaviour, so to have a service where families can go together to be supported will make a big difference.”
Other new measures announced at today’s budget meeting included £180,000 for the council’s Community Committee to reverse previous Wellbeing cuts and £330,000 for mental health services to support isolated men at risk of suicide as well as children and young people.
Coun Blake said: “We are putting extra funding into mental health, specifically targeted at helping to improve resilience among young people and children, as well as to reduce social isolation among men at risk of suicide, which is an area we feel central government has badly neglected in recent years.
“There will also be additional money for youth activity funding in communities, to replace funding that has previously fallen victim to government cuts.”