West Berkshire Council (WBC) approved its 2022-23 budget in March 2022. The purpose of this post is not to explore my view of its details nor of the way in which these were decided, discussed and debated, but simply to provide three statements from each of the three parties represented on WBC.
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• Taken from a press statement issued on 3 March 2022 (which you can see in full here).
We are proud to have delivered such a positive budget in difficult circumstances, which will maintain good local services while investing further in the areas we know our residents want us to focus on.
This includes an extra £5.2 million to help people who need the support of our social care staff and services, a new solar farm in Grazeley as part of our plans to make West Berkshire net carbon zero by 2030 and £2.6m on the North Thatcham flood alleviation scheme.
We will also continue to support businesses with grants and rate relief schemes, including the new Covid-19 Additional Relief Fund which will make £4.8 million available to businesses which don’t currently benefit from existing rate relief schemes.
We are confident that this value for money budget will deliver what the district needs to recover from the pandemic and build back better.
• Statement received on 10 March 2022.
The 4% increase in Council tax was welcome as this could have been as high a 6% so that was helpful to our residents.
We are, however, concerned at the increasing borrowing that the Council is taking on. Servicing these loans will cost nearly £18M by 2024/25, some 12% of the money the Council spends in total. That is money that can’t be used for services. In fact, the Council’s total debt is very nearly £150m – that’s nearly £2,200 for every household in West Berkshire.
We put forward 15 amendments, but none were supported by the Conservatives. These included investigations into developing a Council Power Generating Company as well as a fund through which local businesses could bid for money for green initiatives. We simply asked for seed corn money for the power generation scheme and others in order to undertake feasibility studies, but these were not supported.
We also proposed that we re-instate the grant to Readibus and to waive the Green bin charge for people in receipt of council tax relief. Neither found favour.
The budget debate proceeded in its usual way: we made serious and costed proposals and the Administration simply voted them down as has been the case for seventeen years – such is local democracy in West Berkshire.
• Statement received on 8 March 2022.
We were very disappointed by the ruling group’s refusal to countenance any opposition proposals.
The Conservatives rejected all 17 amendments from the Greens and Liberal Democrats, many for modest amounts that nonetheless would have made a real difference to people.
Our proposed £40,000 for West Berks Foodbank would have provided immediate help for some of those hardest hit by the energy and cost-of-living crisis. No one should have to choose between heating and eating.
We supported some elements of the budget, but not £850,000 on yet more London Road Industrial Estate “feasibility” studies, or blowing nearly the entire playing pitch budget on one location.
Councillor Mackinnon’s repeated personal attacks on the integrity of Green councillors did him and his party no credit.