Opposition councillors say they will scrutinise Mayor’s proposed 3.99% council tax rise

Bedford Borough Hall

The Conservative Group and Bedford’s Green Party councillors have said they will be scrutinising the Mayor’s 2022/23 budget to ensure the proposed 3.99% Council Tax rise is justified.

Bedford Borough Council published the Mayor’s proposed 2022/23 Budget this week, outlining plans to keep Council Tax rises below inflation, to improve efficiency at Borough Hall, to prevent cuts to frontline services and the plan includes major investments to support residents and protect the environment.

Inflation is currently at 5.1%.

The Budget also sets out major investment to help tackle climate change, support residents in their time of need, and improve the Borough as a place to live and work:

Tackling Climate Change

  • Moving the council’s vehicle fleet to electric vehicles and other alternative fuels
  • More Renewable Solar Power Generation on council buildings and the Green Energy Park
  • More tree planting as part of 10,000 trees planted this season

Supporting Residents

  • Social care support for adults in their time of need
  • Investing in meeting the needs of children with special educational needs and disability
  • Accommodation and support for the homeless and rough sleepers

Improving the Borough

  • An extra £3 million on road and pavement renewal
  • Additional investment in grounds maintenance
  • Investment in Bedford Town Centre
  • Enhancing the Embankment and Riverside area
  • A major eight-site playground refurbishment programme
  • Tackling the danger of speeding

Finance Portfolio Holder Councillor Michael Headley said: “This Budget ensures that we can continue to provide quality services and support for residents when they need it most.

“It ensures we are taking real action to meet our zero carbon target and tackle the climate emergency. And it ensures our Borough continues to improve and prosper so that it remains a brilliant place to live and work.”

The core Council Tax rise is 1.99%, but, says the Mayor’s office, the government’s decision to choose Council Tax to fund adult social care will add on another 2% in Adult Social Care Precept.

Adult Social Care costs are rising

This, they say, is less than the maximum percentage the government have allowed for and confirm that thanks to last year’s increased collection of Council Tax, means that there is an extra £3.5 million, which has meant that the Council is able to keep this year’s Council Tax bills as low as possible.

Read: Bedford Borough Council finds £4 million council tax surplus

Councillor Headley continued: “This Budget has been put together in the shadow of reduced government funding over recent years, the increased needs of the most vulnerable such as those needing adult social care and the impact of the pandemic.

“The main government grant we receive has been slashed from £30 million in 2015, to now just £6 million. Instead of properly funding local government, the Conservatives are choosing to push more and more of the costs onto local taxpayers.”

Bedford Borough Council will continue to provide vital frontline services, and, says the report, the Council will work ever more efficiently and make further savings of £4.5 million to prevent cuts to frontline services.

Conservative Group Leader, Cllr Graeme Coombes said his councillors would be closely scrutinising the Mayor’s budget, “to ensure value for money for Bedford residents.

Cllr Graeme Coombes
Cllr Graeme Coombes, leader of the Bedford Conservative Group

“After repeatedly calling for more powers for Local Government, when given this discretion over the Adult Social Care Precept he has chosen to whack residents with a 2% increase, alongside the maximum possible increase of 1.99% in Council Tax.

Cllr Coombes says the Mayor needs to answer whether it is necessary to have a 3.99% rise in Council Tax, citing the £4m surpluses in the Council Tax fund.

Bedford’s Green Party councillors focused on the budget allocations for tackling climate change, saying that it is “woefully short of what is needed.”

Cllr Ben Foley, said: “There is an urgent need to get transport shifted towards public transport and active travel, while goods transport needs to be shifted from road to rail, with more local production for local use, and reduced goods transport as a whole due to more repair, refurbishment and reuse.

“Investment to address climate change can have wide, long-term benefits in terms of creating ‘green jobs’, warmer buildings, cleaner air and better health.”

Fellow Green Councillor, Lucy Bywater, drew attention to Borough Hall, saying: “The pandemic has shown that the council needs even less office space than it previously had imagined. It was, in any case, looking for ways of occupying less of Borough Hall.

“The council needs to make really substantial and urgent moves, that do not depend on hypothetical organisations seeking office space. It might be appropriate to return part of the site to housing, just like it was before County Hall was built in the 1950s.”

She also suggested implementing a workplace parking levy to generate further income that could support public transport, active travel improvements and a better reaction to the Climate Emergency, citing Nottingham is a good example of this in practice.

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