Monthly column: Standing up for the people of Bedford Borough

Cllr Henry Vann (Lib Dem, De Parys) Leader, Bedford Borough Liberal Democrats.
Cllr Henry Vann (Lib Dem, De Parys) Leader, Bedford Borough Liberal Democrats.

As the joint opposition of Bedford Borough Council, Bedford Borough Labour Group and Bedford Borough Liberal Democrats have agreed to share this column, writing a column from their respective parties on alternate months.

We are happy for them to use this column in this way while they have equal standing and it will be reviewed should the political make-up of Bedford Borough Council change.

I want to shine a light on what has been going on in the Council and update you about the work we are doing on your behalf.

It is a mixture of good news and bad news.

I had hoped this first Column might just be celebrating the success of a Liberal Democrat proposal that won cross-party backing in December.

As an early Christmas present, jointly with Labour councillors, we successfully blocked the Mayor’s plans to cut £1.2m roads and pavement repairs and we confirmed funding for GP surgeries in Wootton, Wixams, Kempston, and Great Barford.

We also managed to cut the Mayor’s planned £56 million borrowing spree that would have seen residents – all of us – footing the bill of £5m a year in debt payments and inevitably more cuts.

And, we were successful in asking the Council to vote to protect the River Festival from political meddling in future after the Mayor’s plans to cut it.

This was about putting residents first and investing in our Borough: Yes to GP surgeries, yes to maintaining our leisure facilities and yes to repairing roads and pavements.

But No to cuts and a buy-now, pay-through-the-nose later debt culture for our Borough.

But sadly, I am writing this in response to the first proposed budget of the minority Conservative administration. (For 2024 to 2025.)

This Conservative budget proposes to cut vital services:

The food bank referral and crisis grant team? Cut.

The ward fund, which has funded defibrillators, speed indicators, and safer crossings and many other initiatives and events and community groups and parish councils across the Borough? Cut. (see addendum, below)

Free School Meal Holiday Vouchers – as campaigned for by Marcus Rashford? Cut

Properly Maintaining Shrub Beds? Cut

Schools Career Service? Cut

And Council Tax will be going up by 5% – the highest since the Borough Council became a Unitary Authority in 2009 and far, far higher than the average over the last fourteen years.

Local residents benefit when they have access to quality Council services when they need them and without facing huge rises in Council Tax.

This budget is proposing the opposite.

We oppose this budget that cuts services and increases tax. And we will ask the Mayor and his minority Conservative administration to think again.

There may be a lot of spin.

The Mayor may talk about difficult decisions but these cuts are the result of poor financial management and a failure to act to get control of the Budget this year. We are now all paying the cost.

This is in stark contrast to the approach of the previous Mayor, Liberal Democrat Dave Hodgson, where services were protected and council tax rises kept to some of the lowest seen in the country.

This came from years of hard work on behalf of local residents – putting people first. Now we face the prospect of this hard work being undone in such a short time.

Less than a third of voters at the last election backed the new Mayor, and the Liberal Democrats were just 145 votes short, so tactical voting will be vital if we are to win in 2027 and bring back the ambitious fight to protect and save our services.

Addendum, from Cllr Vann: As of last [Wednesday] night, after chaotic last-minute changes to the budget (literally on the day), the Ward Fund was restored and the leisure vanity project dropped, at least for now. We welcome the reversal of these cuts and some of the borrowing.

However, other elements – such as ongoing plans for huge borrowing levels and a maximum possible council tax rise, and no budget confirmation yet on the protection of welfare services remain a real concern, alongside the need for more investment in roads and pavements. We cannot support a budget that does not put all residents first.

This is a monthly guest column provided by Cllr Henry Vann,
leader of the Bedford Borough Liberal Democrat Group.
It is published unedited and does not reflect the
views of the Bedford Independent.