Bedford Borough council tax is going up: Lib Dems and Labour blame Government cuts with local Conservatives trying to block the rise

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Bedford Borough Hall

Bedford borough residents will be seeing a 3.99 per cent increase in the council’s slice of their council tax bills following the approval of the council’s General Fund Budget for 2022/2023.

The increase includes 1.99 per cent in Core Council Tax and two per cent for the Adult Social Care Precept.

But it does not include any rises from town/parish councils, police and fire service precepts.

Read: £10 council tax rise for Bedfordshire Police approved

Bedford Borough councillors were told last night (2 February) that the proposed budget for the next financial year continues the council’s “record of protecting vital front line services”.

In introducing the budget, the portfolio holder for finance, Cllr Michael Headley (LibDems, Putnoe Ward) said: “We are delivering an efficient and effective council, that means council tax increases since we formed the administration have been kept lower than other councils – it’s the third-lowest rise of all unitary councils across the country.

“I want to remind everyone of the uncertain times that we are setting this budget in, we have the risks around the unfolding pandemic and what the next year may have in store for us as a council.

“In order both support our community and manage any shocks to our income from any economic fallout, we have to have funds available to deal with the wide range of possibilities and the known unknowns.

“Then we have the uncertainties around funding settlement beyond this budget. Yet Again, we only have a one-year settlement, with our main government grants still at £6 million, down from the £13 million back in 2015.

“From next year, we know there’s no extra funding proposed in total for existing government services.

“We know those areas gaining from levelling up will be paid for by government funding for by areas like ours being levelled down. We are staring in the face of the removal of millions of pounds, money needed for local services.

“This is a budget that meets the challenges head-on, the challenges of the pandemic, the challenges of uncertain and reducing government funding.

“But most importantly, it meets the challenges being faced by local residents.

“We have a record of protecting vital front line services, we have a record of doing that was keeping council tax increases down.”

Cllr Headley asked councillors to support the budget to “maintain that strong financial record and avoiding a bankruptcy was seen too many other councils”.

However, local Conservative councillors tried to block the rise, asking for council tax to be frozen.

Read: Bedford Borough Council rejects challenge to freeze council tax

The Conservatives said it would be wrong to increase tax amid ‘significant pressures’ on family budgets.

But Labour and Lib Dem councillors said the move was a ‘distraction’ designed to make the Conservative party look like ‘the good guys’ – and would result in service cuts.

Protecting front line services

Bedford mayor, Dave Hodgson, said that as well as “protecting” front line services, the budget continues to manage the council’s debt.

“Since 2009, we’ve managed our debt reducing it by £25 million, down from £90.7 to £65.7 million.

“It’s frustrating that we have a huge amount of money tied up in interest payment and debt repayments and we inherited that in 2009.

“But we have been managing this and making savings wherever we can while still maintaining a quality service and limited borrowing.

“Just comparing to our neighbours in the south in Central Beds, the proportion of Bedford Borough’s budget spent on debt is 4 per cent, which is forecast to stay at a similar level in 24/25. In contrast, Central Beds will spend 6.3 [per cent] of their budget on debt, and this figure is forecast to rise further to 7.5 per cent.

“This means that our neighbours to the south will spend over 50 per cent more on debt as a proportion of the total budget than Bedford Borough Council.

“Money going on interest and debt repayments rather than services for [residents],” he said.

Independent Cllr Doug McMurdo (Sharnbrook Ward) said: “The most vulnerable in our communities are being protected in two ways here.

“One being we have a balanced budget and continue to deliver those much-needed services.

“And two, those that will require support, we offer a council tax reduction scheme.

“So I can only conclude that this balanced budget that is being put in front of us this evening has to be supported, and I will be supporting it,” he said.

The budget was approved following a recorded vote.

In a statement on the mayor’s claims,  Cllr David Shelvey, executive member for corporate resources at Central Bedfordshire Council, said: “This figure is due to the significant capital investments that this council has and is planning to make to the infrastructure of Central Bedfordshire in order to improve the lives of our residents and businesses.

“This includes major capital investments in things such as roads, Leisure Centres, Health and Wellbeing Hubs, Schools, Care Homes and a major investment in our wholly-owned housing company (New Vista Homes) to build much-needed housing.

“The figure of 7.5 per cent relates to the 2024/25 financial year.”

by John Guinn Local Democracy Reporter
and Bedford Independent’s Paul Hutchinson

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