Council tax frozen again at county level

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County councillors have approved the budget for the 2013-14 financial year, which will see council tax frozen again.

Members voted 54-12 in favour of the plan, which also outlines cuts in order to make nearly £34m of savings next year and a further £44m over the following two years.

But opposition councillors said the administration had made the wrong choices for people in the county, and would pay at the ballot box in May’s council elections.

Cllr Chris Stanbra, the Liberal Democrat opposition’s finance spokesman, noted the administration’s pride in its budget – but added pride always came before a fall.

He said the administration had made a series of wrong choices, including switching off streetlights and speed cameras and cutting mobile library services.

“We will not let the Conservatives off the hook by blaming the Government. It is the Conservatives who are making the wrong decisions locally,” he said.

He also said the lack of council tax rises was because for three of the eight years of the Tory administration, central Government grants had covered any shortfall.

Outlining how a Liberal Democrat budget would differ, Cllr Stanbra said: “We will switch the streetlights back on and spend £1m repairing pavements.

“We will invest in a new approach to jobs and the local economy and tackle youth unemployment.”

Labour councillor Mark Bullock said: “Council tax in our county is low. The services we have are low.

“It’s about sharing the pain, and in my opinion the pain has not been shared at the top of the organisation in the way it should have been. It’s about fairness.”

Labour had also proposed an alternative budget focused around six priorities, including investing in elderly care, a small fleet of public service vehicles and additional PCSOs. Their proposal, and that put forward by the Lib Dems, was voted down by the Conservative-majority council.

Cllr Bill Parker, portfolio holder for finance, said he was proud of his party’s budget, and said Labour and the Liberal Democrats would be constrained by the same circumstances as the administration.

He added: “This administration has the philosophy of taxing less in the good times and certainly in the challenging times. This is why we have the lowest council tax in the country.

“We have managed to help hard-pressed people’s money stay in their pockets where it belongs.

“I am immensely proud of what we have achieved over the last four years. Wherever possible, savings have and will continue to be achieved. This budget and previous ones are the result of a vision and a long-term strategy.”

Council leader, Cllr Jim Harker, said: “It’s a real challenge at this time of austerity, but the Conservative administration on this county council has a really proud record, and it has carried on today.

“The budget is in tune with the public. They want us to protect vital services, but they also want to protect the pound in their pocket. We have an excellent budget to present to the people of Northamptonshire.”

Earlier, protest outside county hall by Unison attracted about 20 people. One Unison member, Ben King, from Desborough, said: “We are protesting today because we are not happy about the cuts the county council are proposing and the impact it’s going to have on both staff and customers.”