Fresh battle over budget

Issue 671

POLITICAL big beasts butted heads over a tax hike which could hit residents across the district.

Kirklees Council plans to raise £2.7m in 2015/16 by putting up council tax by 1.95 per cent.

In a double blow rent for council homes goes up 2.2 per cent (£1.53 a week) – taking the weekly bill to £71.32.

The council tax rise sparked a row between Coun Robert Light (Con, Birstall and Birkenshaw) and Coun David Sheard (Lab, Heckmondwike).

Council leader Coun Sheard said the extra cash is needed to save services from more cuts.

He said: “If we didn’t do this now then we’d need to look for another £6m of cuts in the budget as it’s accumulated.”

Tory opposition leader Coun Light called for a tax freeze given the scale of cuts coming.

He said: “When the council is reducing its services there is no justification to tax the public more.”

The issue will come to a head at a council budget meeting in Huddersfield on Wednesday February 18.

Kirklees faces £69m of cuts over the next three years, with up to 1,400 jobs at risk.

Also in the firing line are markets in Batley and Birstall and the free town bus in Dewsbury.

Further cuts involve the district’s libraries, but the cabinet rejected plans to shut all but two of them at a meeting on Tuesday.

Coun Sheard claimed there was public backing for a tax rise and said: “In our budget consultation around 50 per cent of people supported a two per cent rise.”

Kirklees would have been eligible for a government grant of £1.6m if council tax was frozen.

Coun Light said the £1.1m shortfall and the need for swingeing cuts can be bridged with a revolution in how Kirklees works.

He said: “We believe there are important changes to be made with how the council delivers its services.”

Hinting at outsourcing, he added: “They can and must be provided differently and at less cost.

“We believe that by prioritising what the council does differently we can protect many universally provided services.

“The mass-scale decimation of services in certain communities is totally unacceptable.”

Coun Light echoed a Lib Dem proposal from last week to slim down council bureaucracy.

Lib Dem leader Coun Nicola Turner wants to axe the cabinet in a return to the old committee system.

She said: “The council will have shrunk by approximately 40 per cent by 2018 so it’s time for to cut the leadership bill accordingly.

“Our proposal will save £70,000 a year or 40 per cent, which we think is the right amount.

“We can’t make decisions about budget reductions affecting services and local people without trimming the fat ourselves.”

Coun Light wants to reduce the cabinet by half and proposed an end to annual council elections.

He said: “We don’t need a cabinet of 10 councillors and we could have all-out elections once every four years instead of every year.”

In a pitch for May’s poll he added: “It’s time to cut the cost of councillors and deliver meaningful devolution with local choice.”

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