No “sweetheart deal” for Leeds as council tax goes up five per cent

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A four and a half hour budget debate at Leeds Civic Hall earlier today ended with one inevitable result - a five per cent council tax rise for families.

The widely anticipated hike means the average Band D bill will go up by £70 from April.

In an hour long speech, leader of the council Judith Blake was scathing about the impact of continuing Government funding cuts on the city’s services, but stressed Leeds had proved itself to be “strong and resilient” in the face of “huge pressure”.

While other councils had been left “on the verge of bankruptcy”, she told the packed council chamber, Leeds was fighting hard to balance its books.

And referencing the recent controversy in Surrey - where it was claimed that one council was given a special deal by Ministers to kill off its plans for a 15 per cent tax rise to pay for a social care funding gap - she said that if “sweetheart deals” were good enough for Conservative led councils in the south, they were “good enough for Leeds”.

“We can all be incredibly proud of our city,” councillor Blake said. “Leeds has bucked the trend.

“We have proved ourselves enterprising, innovative and resilient. Our economy is growing. We continue to prioritise the needs of our most vulnerable residents.”

However she stressed: “There is no doubt that we still have huge challenges [and] persistent inequalities blight many of our communities.”

Opposition councillors had put forward 18 amendments to the budget plans, including cost-saving measures like slashing trade union subsidies and back room IT costs. Other suggestions included a new £5m fund to boost regeneration on brownfield land and a rollout of a brown bin food waste pilot.

However the budget proposals were voted through as they stand, with 58 votes of a total 93 for, two against and 33 abstentions.

Commenting on a raft of cuts and savings laid out in the budget - which include increased city centre car parking charges and an end to free bulky waste collections - councillor Stewart Golton, leader of the Lib Deb 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.

Councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the biggest Conservative opposition group, was more brutal in his assessment.

He accused the council’s leadership of being “highly selective” about its net spending figures, adding that the authority “cannot continue to put fanciful trading figures in the budget which are then not achieved”.

He also urged the council to engage more directly with his party’s Government, stressing that despite the cuts, Whitehall has given the city £585m in grant funding in the last five years.