Monthly column: Working in the interests of all Bedford Borough Residents

Cllr Carl Meader daffodils Kempston South Image Bedford and Kempston Labour Party
Cllr Carl Meader Image: Bedford and Kempston Labour Party

As has been the case for many years, even before becoming a Unitary Authority in 2009, Bedford Borough Council continues to be a ‘hung council’ with no party in overall control with a majority.

Whilst disappointed to now have a Conservative Mayor and Executive, Bedford Borough Labour Group believe it is not in the interest of residents to be wilfully obstructive to everything the administration tries to do.

Therefore, when it came to setting the budget for the next year, we negotiated long and hard to get what we felt was best for residents, and to curb the wilder and more extravagant Tory budget ideas that would result in a heavy burden for council taxpayers in future.

These negotiations took many hours but resulted in a budget we finally felt able to support. By law, the Council has to set a balanced budget. Our negotiations led to the following concessions by the Tories to their original plans:

  • The postponement of any investment in the Tory Mayor’s vanity project, a ‘Leisure Village’ on one large site near Priory Marina which we believe would eventually result in the closure of existing leisure facilities which are spread across the Borough and therefore more accessible to residents. This project would have necessitated borrowing of £12.75m and would be a tax burden on future generations.
  • Repairs to existing leisure facilities are now under the operational control of a company called ‘Better’ and we can all agree they can only be better than Fusion but time will tell.
  • The prevention of the closure of Daubeney School – officers, councillors and the Academy have instead found £7m to extend and refurbish the school. This ensures Kempston will have sufficient school places in future.
  • The retention of the Councillor’s Ward Fund – the Tories wanted to scrap this, but it is the only fund councillors have to directly support projects in their ward and we absolutely refused to let this happen. We agreed that a better system of administering the fund should be found, and funds should be allowed to roll over into the following year so more expensive projects can be advanced.
  • Money has been formally allocated for the Muslim Cemetery, rather than alluded to in vague terms. Up to £1m is set aside for this project.
  • Money has been set aside for exploring the development of Kempston Health Hub, and other Health Hubs in the Borough. Specialist consultants are looking into this, and formal links have been set up with the Integrated Care Board.

After years of the Tories opposing any Council Tax increases made by the previous administration, they have belatedly realised the impact of 14 years of their own Conservative Government’s austerity measures on local authority finances.

Yet again – and reluctantly as we are acutely aware of the struggles many residents are having with the cost of living – the Labour Group has had to support the 4.99% increase as government funding for councils is so vastly insufficient.

Without this, vital council services could be subject to cuts.

This is a monthly guest column provided by
Cllr Carl Meader, leader of the Bedford and Kempston Labour Party.
It is published unedited and does not reflect the
views of the Bedford Independent.