On Wednesday 24 February Durham County Council meets to set next year’s budget and Council Tax. The headline news is that the Labour-controlled Council – unlike many local councils – is REFUSING the government’s offer to pay for the pandemic by raising Council Tax by 5%; to protect residents, DCC has restricted that rise to 2.99%.
At that meeting, the opposition parties have their chance to oppose the budget. To do this, they are given free access to officer advice. If they wanted, they could propose a completely different budget; in practice, they usually suggest a few tweaks … and it is this year’s LibDems’ proposals I will address.
OPPOSING THE BUDGET
The LibDems are proposing three changes to the budget:
(1) COUNCILLORS’ SPENDING
The LibDems want to cut £1¼ million from the Area Action Partnerships budget, in order to give an extra £10k each to councillors to spend on their wards. This I could never agree to. The AAPs were set up wholly to hand some control over local spending to local residents through their AAPs. This is also a principle of the recent £25 million Towns & Villages Regeneration strategy and – although the Labour Party manifesto is not yet framed – I personally would want to see MORE residents’ participation in budgeting.
(2) BORROW £10 MILLION TO REPAIR SCHOOLS
This seems a kind idea … until you realise that maintenance of schools is a GOVERNMENT responsibility, and all this idea is doing is taking our Council Taxpayers’ money to do the government’s job (so it can give tax breaks and massive contracts to the mega-rich).
(3) SPEND AN EXTRA £ MILLION A YEAR IMPROVING RIGHTS OF WAY
Personally, I think this is an OK idea … if we can afford it.
AND THE POINT IS…
What I would point out is that ALL these proposals are about SPENDING MORE and, as such, they stand absolutely against the promises of our Newton Aycliffe LibDem, Michael Stead, that he will cut our council tax by finding savings. A while ago, I challenged Cllr Stead to explain how he would do so. Now, I must challenge him again, to ask him what he makes of these proposals by his political mentors at County Hall? Does he approve of all this extra spending on our council tax? Is he disappointed that his LibDems have not proposed the £22 million of cuts Mike Dixon told us last week would be needed to reduce our council tax by £3 a week?
Your Party is not doing what you said they would!
NOT BEING NASTY
And, before people declare that this is just political nastiness … far from it! If anything, I am inviting Cllr Stead to tell us more about his council-tax-cutting proposals.
HOWEVER, I do think that, if people are to give Cllr Stead their vote in May, we have a duty to ask him to go beyond unsubstantiated promises and to explain how he will find the £multi-million savings needed … when his LibDem leaders at County Hall clearly have no intention of doing so.
Cllr John D Clare