Bedford Borough Council met on Wednesday 3 February to vote through a budget of £110 million for 2021/22.
With this, the borough provides a huge range of local services, from road repair and waste collection to adult social care and child services.
This is over £10million less than last year’s budget, which was also £10million less than the year before. You might have noticed (as I have) that your council tax has gotten higher each year, but the Council has less to spend.
So why is this happening?
This year, the answer is not difficult to work out.
Part of any council’s budget isn’t from taxes, but from other revenue; residents using services such as car parks, golf clubs, and concession stands; facilities which have been shut for much of the past year.
Anyone could have seen that coming, and it seemed last year that our government did.
There hasn’t been a time in living memory where the people have had greater need for a government to step up to the mark.
Boris Johnson’s Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, said that government would “do whatever it takes” to ensure councils can provide the critical services we all rely on during the pandemic, including making up for the government’s inadequate £12billion test and trace scheme.
So my question is this: Prime Minister, where’s our money?
The government has been cutting millions from our services each year, from the taxpayer money that should be sent to councils to cover our schools, healthcare, adult services and other fundamental requirements.
In Bedford Borough the Revenue Support Grant from Central Government has fallen from £30m five years ago to £6m this year.
Cuts like these are damaging to the very fabric of our community.
Despite this, the government has had no trouble in finding billions in our money for no-bid contracts awarded to their cronies.
If they promised this year to make up local councils’ shortfalls, why haven’t they? Possibly because they know that local authorities have to agree a legal budget, or face intervention.
So instead of funding them adequately they instruct councils that they can increase Council Tax to make up the desperately needed shortfall, absolving central government of its real responsibility, and directing residents wrath at increases onto the councils.
If the government doesn’t make good on its promises, all taxpayers in Bedford will find themselves paying even more for far less.
With this in mind, I hope you will join myself and others in joining the Campaign Against Cuts in calling for the government to cover the budget shortfall in Bedford, as it promised, to ensure no jobs or services are lost.
Cllr Sam Blacklaws
Bedford Campaign Against Cuts
Town Councillor for Kempston North
Bedford and Kempston Labour Party Chair