‘Osborne’s tax’ piles on the pain for Leeds bill payers

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There was plenty of party political sound and fury, but very little for Leeds taxpayers to shout about, as the city’s budget for the next financial year was rubber-stamped by councillors.

An expected four per cent council tax rise in 2016/17 - including the new two per cent social care levy dubbed ‘Osborne’s tax’ - was approved.

It will send the average Leeds council tax charge up to £1,215.54 a year.

With the addition of West Yorkshire Police and fire service precepts, families with a Band D property will see their total bill rise to £1,421.20 a year.

The three-hour-plus budget debate at Leeds Civic Hall was dominated by national party politics, with council leader Judith Blake dedicating much of her hour-long speech to hitting out at the “drastic cuts and dogmatic Tory drive to shrink public services” which are fuelling cuts to services and tax hikes.

Opposition councillors tabled 15 different amendments to the main budget paper - but all were rejected.

These included Tory calls for a slash in Trade Union convening hours, a £600,000 cut in IT spending and a £200,000 increase in grants for defending planning appeals against unwanted housing developments in communities.

The Lib Dems suggested a pay freeze for all council officers on the higher pay grades, which they said could save £880,000.

And the Green party also saw its motion to reduce councillors’ allowances fall. Group leader David Blackburn had suggested slashing ‘special responsibility allowances’ for senior figures like the council leader and executive board members by 28 per cent and basic councillors’ allowances by 9 per cent. But one Tory colleague told him he didn’t have to claim his allowance, but the rates were set by an independent panel.

Councillor Blake was unrelenting in her attack on what she called “cynical” central Government pandering to councils in the southern Tory heartlands, which were recently handed the lion’s share of a £300m emergency funding pot for cash-strapped authorities,

She said Leeds families had, yet again, been shortchanged by hundreds of pounds per head compared to southern cities and counties.

And singling out chancellor George Osborne and the two per cent social care levy she called ‘Osborne’s tax’, she added: “He is failing public services and he is failing families.”

“‘Osborne’s tax’ will not go far,” she said. “It equates to £5m and won’t even cover the new national wage requirements for external care providers.

‘Whitehall wants to give us lessons in efficiency - but they do not have a good track record.”

Coun Blake told the packed council chamber and public gallery that there had been a “shocking lack of support for Northern cities” like Leeds from the Government, claiming that 83 per cent of new emergency funding will go to Tory councils, and the poorest local councils have been hit with cuts 18 times higher than the country’s richest.

Responding to coun Blake, Andrew Carter, leader of the main opposition Conservative group, accused his opposite number of “missing a trick” and “embarking on politics of envy” which fuelled the North/South divide rhetoric.

He said comparisons should not be made with London and the shire counties, but with comparative cities in the North like Bradford and Manchester.

However councillor Stewart Golton, leader of the Lib Dem group, urged the Tory group leader to prove he is “a proper Northern Tory” by standing by the council - and up to the Government - on the austerity agenda.

Despite a generally bleak immediate outlook for bill payers, councillor Blake told the chamber that the city’s wider growth ambitions are on track.

The authority’s three year capital investment plan will create 3,950 jobs and generate £755mill GVA (gross value added) for the local economy, she said.

“We are changing perceptions of what it means to invest in the North,” she added, stressing that “we are in the midst of a half billion pound retail boom”.