Council Tax frozen but £9.4million must be saved in next three years

Calderdale Business Breakfast, at Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre, Halifax. Pictured is council leader Stephen Baines
Calderdale Business Breakfast, at Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre, Halifax. Pictured is council leader Stephen Baines

Calderdale Council’s budget for the next three years was set amid a fiery debate at Halifax Town Hall.

Residents will see a freeze in Council Tax for two years, but the council has to find £9.4 million savings by 2018.

The Conservative-led administration worked with the Liberal Democrats to pass its budget.

Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf), leader of the council, told the meeting: “There are very few changes to the budget for 2015/16, but the Council Tax still remains as a zero increase as in the agreement last year.

“The major changes in our budget come in in 2017/18. We’ve always firmly believed that this should be decided after consultation with the general public, which is why we haven’t put forward any firm proposals,” he said.

“We’ve put forward some rough headings which are not set in concrete, so the general public can say what their priorities are.”

The budget was roundly criticised by the opposing Labour group.

Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town), leader of the Labour group, said: “The Conservative budget lacks imagination, provides no sense of vision for the future and puts off any meaningful decisions until after the election.”

The main concern about the budget highlighted by both the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups is a £2.6 million cut to discretionary services - this includes libraries, leisure centres, winter gritters, public toilets, children’s centres and youth services.

An alternative budget put forward by the Labour group was blocked, because although Labour are the largest party on the council, they are one member short of an overall majority.

Coun Swift said that until a few minutes prior to the meeting the Labour group were expecting to be supported by the Liberal Democrat group.

The Mayor of Calderdale Coun Pat Allen (Lib Dem, Elland) sought legal advice before casting a deciding vote supporting the Conservative-led administration’s budget.

Coun Janet Battye (Lib Dem, Calder), leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “We had hoped to support the Labour budget, but what we really wanted was cross-party consensus.

“Our concern with the Cabinet proposals is that discretionary services look as though they may take the biggest hit in terms of expected savings in two years time - these are the bulk of the services that we know local people want and value - so we’ve got qualms about both of the budgets,” she said.

“No green proposals have been put forward - we want to take action on affordable warmth and we want the council to get to grips with its use of energy.”

Amendments put forward by the Liberal Democrat group which include measures to reduce energy usage in council buildings by 20 per cent and to set aside £1.4 million to improve insulation in social housing were passed when the Labour group abstained from voting.

A further amendment by the Labour group to inject a further £35,000 of investment into the Orangebox young people’s centre, Halifax, was passed unanimously.

Councillors from both the Conservative and Labour groups were reprimanded by the Mayor during the meeting for heckling and jeering during the debate.