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Why we could not support this year's HBC budget

February 17, 2019 10:31 AM

Liberal Democrat Councillors were unable to support this year's Harrogate Borough Council budget and unanimously voted against it at the full council meeting on 13th February. Disappointingly the budget was passed after it received the backing of all of HBC's Conservative Councillors.

Before the vote the Lib Dems expressed concerns that this is a budget based on reviews of eight services, none of which has yet been completed. There can be no confidence that these reviews will result in savings. More importantly, it cannot be said that delivery of services will be unaffected or that further service cuts won't occur. It is a budget based on income from services despite a failure to meet targets in the past year.

How can we know that these reviews will not impact on the cleanliness of our streets, the quality of our parks and gardens or the way refuse is collected?

Another unacceptable feature of this budget is increased costs being imposed on the bereaved. HBC's charges for burial and cremation are already amongst the highest in the country and are set to go up by an inflation busting 3.5%. This is wrong when residents have no real choice but to use these services.

Demand Better

Lib Dem Group Leader Cllr Pat Marsh said:

"This is a budget of ifs, buts and maybes - as it was last year, a year when we saw the usual over a million pounds underspends turn into overspends, illustrating uncertainty.

This is a budget underpinned by staff cuts. This is at the same time that the main reason for staff sickness is now stress. Could there be a correlation between the two? Are we balancing the budget on the backs of our staff? This budget is streamlining our services. Those services are already struggling to give a quality of service. That is why there are concerns from residents about the services they receive from this Council.

Maybe the Council needs to spend less on consultants and be more open and transparent by stopping the new culture of single tendering that seems to have increased alarmingly over the last year?"

At the meeting on 13th February Cllr Philip Broadbank also raised worries about the way local councils are funded by central Government:

"It may not be many years away now when we just decide on providing services to people that we legally have to provide and then only to a minimum standard. It was put to me recently by an executive member of the County Council that to relieve the burden of the Council taxpayer that District Councils should consider whether they should provide discretionary services at all.

Heaven help us if we ever get to that stage but if we don't have a fundamental reform to the way councils are funded then that situation could soon become a reality. Local authorities of all kinds and from all areas are warning about serious funding problems in the near future. I can only hope that someone at Westminster will take these concerns seriously and address them."