Lib Dems reject opaque Council Budget

March 1, 2021 6:30 PM

Gate at Warrington Council BldgThe Liberal Democrat opposition group at the Town Hall has voted against the Council's Budget for next year.

We supported the increase in Council Tax by nearly 5% to help protect essential services but rejected the overall Budget because of a lack of clarity about the impact of the proposed cuts on the public.

wp-content/uploads/imarks.jpgFinance Spokesperson Cllr Ian Marks said: The country's economic backdrop is grim with the biggest economic decline since the Great Frost of 1709. The Tories have presided over a greater fall in GDP than the USA, Japan and the Eurozone. Thankfully Warrington is in a better position than many other places to ride out the storm.

The Government has thrown money at Councils but not enough to cover the extra costs of COVID. Much of the money is more to do with what is called 'pork barrel politics'. Yet the pandemic has shown that successful outcomes are much more likely when local public services work together than when central government is in control.

Promised government reforms have been kicked down the road. What happened to the Fair Funding Review, Business Rates reform and proper funding for social care? It is galling for the Government to give the impression they have given an extra 3% to increase social care funding. It is nothing of the kind. They have just pushed the extra cost directly on to council taxpayers.

We accept the Council has to find innovative ways of generating income to pay for vital services. However, we would like more of the investments to be in the Borough and provide a social benefit as well as an economic one. The investment in Redwood Bank is at the heart of why the 2017/18 Accounts have not yet been signed off. Should a Council be investing in a Bank? Together Energy is another controversial investment and we know that three other Councils have had major problems with energy investments. Why does a successful company like HUT want to borrow from us? Debt is forecast to increase to £2.3 billion at the end of 2023/24. This is more than £10,000 for every person in the town.

Alternative budgets from the Opposition are no longer possible. But I want to mention two issues of concern to many residents. The first is gullies and drains which become blocked with debris or leaves. The Council must find better operational ways of fixing these. Secondly getting a green bin licence is a nightmare for many elderly people. Apart from being discriminated against if they cannot do it on-line, delays on the phone can be terrible. What happened to the direct debit scheme I understood was being investigated?

bbarrOpposition Leader, Cllr Bob Barr added: My Group will vote against this largely opaque Budget because there has been little attempt by the Administration to explain and justify its implications. Consultation has been minimal. We hear the mantra of 'outcome-based budgeting' but outcomes are not defined nor monitored in a publicly acceptable way. I ask every member who does not in full conscience understand the decisions the Council is making, and the risks, to vote against or at least abstain.