Calderdale councillors have passed what they call a “robust, balanced and sustainable” budget following a near four-hour and at times acrimonious meeting.
Leader of the Council, Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town), whose ruling Labour group successfully pushed through the measures, said their proposals included some growth but they had to be cautious.
Some of the measures approved are controversial, including budgeting £150,000 to help increase salaries for drivers who drive bin lorries for contractor Suez, in the light of the HGV driver crisis, which opposition groups attacked.
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Conservative group leader Coun Steven Leigh said agreement to do this with Suez – a private company they said made big profits – had already been made.
Labour members said the measure was crucial to keep key waste and recycling services going when they had seen a supermarket firm standing outside a council main depot trying to tempt existing drivers away.
Council tax payers will see a 2.99 per cent increase in what they pay for services – a 1.99 per cent increase which the Government allows councils to levy without a local referendum and an extra one per cent specifically earmarked for social care.
Other measures passed in the budget, which will see the council spend around £177 million, includes extra money to fund social care, statutory duties which now take up 71 per cent of the council’s annual budget, said Coun Swift.
Also included is funding to drive forward projects in North Halifax, development of the new leisure centre at North Bridge, Halifax, and a new heating system for the pool at Todmorden Leisure Centre, with Cabinet member for Climate Change and Resilience, Coun Scott Patient (Lab, Luddenden Foot) confirming at the meeting that Government funding has been granted for this project.
Funding to tackle planning issues, to overhaul the council’s security system and additional staffing for the IT service desk have also been approved.
Savings which have to be made to compensate include a seven per cent rise in the cost of bereavement services, maximum care charges increasing by £50 per week by 2024-25, and cuts found by reconfiguring some services and losing or redeploying staff.
Coun Swift said significant money was being put into social care against a background which included recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, a dozen years of cuts in grant from Government and uncertainty for the future with only a one year settlement given to local authorities, though the council was trying to plan for three.
“It’s time to end this nightmare of stopgap funding, cut out the endless stream of competitive bidding for pots of money and make sure that every council has a long-term sustainable settlement that meets the needs of of our communities, that addresses the challenges of funding social care and allows us to make long-term plans for the services and investment that Calderdale and our communities need and deserve.
“Against that background our first priority is to ensure that we have a robust, balanced and sustainable budget,” he said.
Coun Swift said it was not the time to put at risk the “excellent” track record of the administration and its officers for sound financial management. “It’s why we have been cautious about any new spending proposals,” he said.
But Coun Leigh slammed this as “managed decline, uninspiring and ineffectual” and criticised borrowing he claimed Labour had undertaken for “vanity projects” which left less money for the sort of services people on the doorstep had told his group they wanted to see.
He said his own group’s proposals would include putting money into teams to tackle the blight of fly-tipping, including stepping up enforcement, cash to improve highways – enough to deal with ten per cent of the borough’s potholes in a year – and removing recently increased car parking charging hours.
Coun Leigh claimed his group’s proposals would link up “vast funding” given by the Government with local projects.
“We will be able to deliver on the people’s priorities – fixing potholes, cutting the grass and fighting fly-tipping.
“This is a progressive budget which provides a fully-costed, joined-up plan to transform Calderdale for the better,” he said.
Coun Swift accused the Conservative group of designing a budget for an election not the people, and said some the group’s savings proposals would be damaging, particularly forcing staff to take three additional days’ unpaid leave at Christmas to allow the council to close offices over that period.
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He said Calderdale could not compete with other areas on salary but had become known as a good place to work for crucial staff, such as social workers protecting children – measures like this which in effect cut pay would take away that advantage. “This really is a serious and damaging proposal,” said Coun Swift.
Liberal Democrat-proposed amendments to Labour’s budget would tackle fuel poverty, put more resources into tackling fly-tipping and monitoring air quality, scrap evening parking charges in Halifax and make West Vale car park free to use and expand North Halifax projects to take in areas not in current proposals, said Coun Baker.
Income could be generated by establishing a crowdfunding scheme to finance community projects, charging for tours of Halifax Town Hall and re-opening and expanding Manor Heath Park’s Jungle Park Experience at Halifax, as well as making savings by reducing the rate of staff recruitment to planning, and moving to a committee rather than Cabinet system of governance, said the group.
Coun Swift claimed both Conservative and Liberal Democrat budget proposals ultimately “did not stack up.”
Calderdale Council Tax in 2022-23
People in some parts of Calderdale, which also have parish or town councils, will also pay sums extra to these figures for those councils’ services.
The figures take into account precepts that have been levied by the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority and the Mayor of West Yorkshire for fire and rescue and policing.
- Band A will pay £1,311.78 for their services.
- In Band B, residents will pay £1,530.41 next year.
- For Band C, this will be £1,749.04 in 2022-23.
- Band D residents will pay £1,967.67.
- In Band E this will be £2,404.93.
- Band F residents will pay £2,842.17.
- In Band G the figure is ££3,279.45.
- And in Band H residents will pay £3,935.34
In Band A – in which most properties in Calderdale fall – it will mean an increase of around £35 a year and in Band D, usually used as a measuring standard, it will be around an extra £50 on last year’s bill.
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