Taxpayers will have to pay more to help Warwickshire County Council contend with further budget cuts of £34 million this year which will lead to a reduction in funding for several important services in the county.
The council, which takes the largest share of people’s council tax payments, agreed its budget at its Shire hall headquarters in Warwick yesterday (Thursday) and part of that will be a four per cent rise for the next financial year.
But the authority, which has to make £67 million of cuts by 2020. is also slashing funding to pay for things such as roads, caring for the elderly, support for recovering addicts, libraries and Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service.
The budget was agreed by both the leading Conservative group and the Labour group with Council leader Izzi Seccombe (Con) pledging to continue her programme of investment in the county and to protect the most vulnerable residents.
Cllr Seccombe said: “Despite incredibly challenging circumstances we have seen considerable growth in Warwickshire in recent years.
“Today’s budget will build upon the good work already done by the Conservative administration at Shire Hall since 2013.
“We will be creating an Investment Fund to improve the county’s infrastructure and we will be providing additional support to help regenerate our town centres.
“We will also build on the incredible success of our Apprenticeship Hub that has led to the County Council itself, as well as many local firms, being listed within the top 100 UK businesses delivering apprenticeships.
“As well as continuing to deliver economic growth across the county this budget will provide additional support for our most vulnerable residents.
“We will be providing further investment in Extra Care Housing which will support people in their own homes, giving them the independence they crave as well as the support they need.
““Although this is a joint budget with the Labour group it has at its heart one of the Conservatives’ principal pledges: to support hard working families and keep them safe. We will be investing £1m more to improve the safety of routes to schools, protected the Home to School Transport budget, continued the investment in LED lighting which will support our ambition to turn many of the county’s street lights back on at night in the coming years and have ensured that none of Warwickshire’s retained fire-fighters will be lost.
“Despite the challenging conditions thanks to strong and responsible leadership under the Conservatives the Council is on a sound financial footing. We need to continue that good work in the coming years to ensure Warwickshire realises the bright future that we are building.”
Before the budget was agreed, Warwickshire’s Green Party members had proposed that £1 million of the £1.9 million made by the council collecting more council tax than it had expected to in the last financial year should be put towards schemes to help those entitled to claim council tax reductions.
Members had also suggested that the extra £2.7 million made than was predicted from council tax due to extra houses being built and more people living in the county should be put into reducing the overall budget cuts ans soften the blow on variousservices,
Jonathan Chilvers, Green Party councillor for South Leamington, said: “For the 7th year in a row, Conservative central government have slashed funding for local services like roads, older people care, support for those recovering from addictions, libraries and fire. “Central Government make these choices in London, but refuse to recognise the impact they have on residents’ lives in Warwickshire.
“The final budget deal had some protection for childrens’ centres and homeless support services which we had called for, but didn’t commit towards the key areas of improving work and school commute through investing in walking and cycling routes or helping those on lower incomes with the ongoing Council Tax rises.”
Warwickshrie’s Liberal Democrat Group has been particularly scathing of the budget.
The group has said that before the meeting yesterday it had set out its priorities. which were to invest in and protect our youngest and most vulnerable citizens, and to invest in speeding up integration of health and social care services.
The group has said that the budget “fails” to meet any of these priorities.
It has said: “Conservatives and Labour have agreed to implement a savage programme of cuts to children’s centres budgets, taking out a further £1.1 million by April 2018.
“There is no published plan on how this will be achieved without causing irreparable harm to the vital children and family support services involved, where budgets have already been cut to the bone.
“Both major parties have turned their backs on the opportunity offered by central government to put an extra cash injection of £7.5 million into adult social care services over the next two years, by re-phasing the adult social precept rises over the next three years.
“Political and short term considerations have blinded them to the real difference this cash injection could have made.”
After the final vote, Liberal Democrat Group Leader Jerry Roodhouse said: “This four-year term of the current Council is ending the way it started, with a Tory/Labour deal done behind closed doors.
“In 2013, Labour sat on their hands to let the Tories form a minority administration, while they grabbed all the well-paid chairs of committees.
“Now, in 2017, they’ve pushed through an unacceptable joint budget which they’ll have to justify to Warwickshire voters this May. Vote Blue get Red, and vote Red get Blue, it seems.”
The Warwickshire Labour Group has said that, under the circumstances of the cuts imposed by the Government, it had made great efforts to soften the blow for Warwickshire residents.
Group leader Cllr June Tandy said: “We met some time ago and agreed our priorities and the basis for our input into this year’s budget and we were determined to ensure our elderly and our young people receive the services they need to support them.
“This year, rather than just vote against the Conservative budget proposals, solely because that is what we are probably expected to do, we have ensured that Labour’s priorities are addressed.
“As a result more than 80 per cent of our priorities have been included in the final consolidation budget.
“There are now less cuts for Supporting People and helping our older population to live in their own homes, less cuts for Children’s Centres, less cuts for our Youth Justice system, less cuts in youngsters caught in the trap of having no further education or training at their disposal, just to name but a few.
“It may have been unpalatable but the budget that we have negotiated means that the difficulties some of our most vulnerable people would have been subjected to have been addressed resulting in taking out some of the more vicious cuts the Conservatives were proposing.
“We are proud that we have the courage not simply to vote along party lines but to look toward better services for Warwickshire people.
“The budget we put forward is about people and not just politics.”