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Friday, 30 July 2021

Budget consultation in Central Bedfordshire described as “tick box exercise”

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Consultation over Central Bedfordshire Council’s (CBC) budget has been labelled “no more than a tick box exercise” by the local authority’s Liberal Democrat leader.

Conservative councillors supported a rise in council tax, despite more than half of residents and organisations responding to the 2021/22 financial plans opposing any increase.

Liberal Democrat Linslade councillor Peter Snelling described it as “a year for absorbing the effects of what has happened, while trying to guess what next year will bring“.

For financial resilience “Central Bedfordshire scores fairly well“, he told a budget setting full council meeting.

Where we differ from the administration is over the council tax increase,” he explained.

The statutory consultation showed the majority didn’t agree with the executive’s position.

Consultation for this council is often no more than a tick box exercise and is obviously so in this case.

This year is exceptional. As unemployment rises further, more of our residents will struggle to pay their bills.”

Conservative Arlesey councillor David Shelvey said: “We’ve had little choice but to increase our part of the general council tax by 1.95 per cent and the adult social care precept by three per cent.

There are increases for Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service of 1.99 per cent and Bedfordshire Police of 7.07 per cent, as well as the average town and parish precept of 2.15 per cent.

It means a typical increase in council tax across Central Bedfordshire of 4.85 per cent.”

The CBC Band D council tax for 2021/22 would be £1,637.11, according to the budget report.

This financial year we propose to spend £440m gross and a net budget of £226m providing services to residents,”  he added. “This represents a £14m increase in our net budget.

The substantially increased costs in adult social care and children’s services will continue into next year with less grant funding from government.

Until we have some certainty from a multi-year settlement, our budget remains at risk because of the crises in adult social care.

The three per cent adult social care precept amounts to about £5m for us, and we’ve net pressures in adults of about £5.3m.”

An extra £1m has been allocated for special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision and a further sum for vulnerable children.

Next year, CBC plans £10.7m of efficiencies, which are becoming harder for officers to deliver, according to councillor Shelvey, who’s the executive member for corporate resources.

This budget carries more risk than ever before, with so many uncertainties over Covid and leaving the European Union,” he warned. “The contingency has been increased to £5.2m to help with this.

We’ve had an extra £2.5m from government to help our council tax support scheme. Those who really are in need will get help with their council tax.

We’ve faced difficult choices balancing or duty to provide the best service to our residents, while recognising the increasingly stretched budgets of our council taxpayers.

With reluctance, we feel we’ve little choice but to recommend the increase.”

Independent Potton councillor Adam Zerny said: “Unsurprisingly public consultation didn’t support this rise and we cannot ignore that.

Well over half, 56 per cent of respondents felt it was too much.

There are some areas where the extra expense is long overdue. The extra money pledged for SEND is welcome.”

Councillors voted to back the budget measures with 42 votes in favour, 12 against and three abstentions.

Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) is a public service news agency: funded by the BBC, provided by the local news sector, and used by qualifying partners. It’s like a franchise: different companies with different approaches, but using common editorial standards and all publishing into the same system.

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