Fireworks to stay, Alive @ Delapre to go, poorest to receive council tax hike: Northampton Borough Council's budget is approved
Work on a new link road in St James, a creative hub for businesses in Northampton town centre and a new St Crispins community centre could start this financial year after the borough council approved a raft of spending.
However, while the Conservative led authority gave the go-ahead to around £14.5 million worth of capital schemes during it’s budget-setting meeting at the Guildhall last night - the council also gave the green light to slash £660,000 from its revenue budget and freeze council tax amid criticism from the opposition.
Moves to scrap the Alive @ Delapre concert were approved, in a move it claims will save £75,000 - though the event broke even in 2014 - funding to the Royal and Derngate theatre was cut by £50,000 and the controversial move to cut the tax relief the council gives to people earning as little as £150 a week was given a rubber stamping.
It is not yet known exactly the number of staff at risk of redundancy - but the council will now look to save more than £150,000 in the regeneration and planning directorate alone as part of around £400,000 of internal restructuring.
The borough’s sixth successive council tax freeze means the authority has missed out on a possible £8 million of revenue over the past six years.
Leader of the opposition Labour group, Councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Castle), said: “This budget is not fit-for -purpose because it does not take stock of the reality we are living in.
“The cumulative effect of council tax freezes is a loss of £8 million - that could have built 80 council houses.”
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats groups proposed amendments to the budget and called for a general council tax rise, a move which around two thirds of consultees said they would welcome in the run up to the budget setting last night,
Labour suggested the council scrapped its yearly fireworks display to save £35,000 and raise council tax by £5 a year for a band D property. This it said could pay for more neighbourhood co-ordinators, another licensing enforcement officer and could create a post for an officer to regulate private sector housing.
The Lib Dems called for a discretionary hardship fund to be set up for people in poverty in Northampton and for the council to make an additional contribution to the Countywide Traveller Unit, which works to liaise with traveller encampments in the area.
Both amended budgets were defeated however.
Instead the approved Conservative budget, virtually unchanged since it was first proposed on December 15, approves the capital funding to start the Vulcan Works creative industry hub, approves £1 million of funding to start the St James Mill link road and just over £1 million to build a community centre in St Crispins.
The opening hours of Abington Museum will be extended in the winter, £2.2 million of funding will be earmarked for the renovation of St Giles and work will start on the revamp of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery - paid for by the sale of the Sekhemka statue.
Other capital schemes include improvements to parking, CCTV and council owned lifts in the town centre.
In terms of the revenue budget, extra charges heaped on owners of houses in Multiple Occupancy are expected to raise £70,000 next year, while social housing rents will also be reduced by one per cent.
Cabinet member for finance, Councillor Mike Hallam (Con, Parklands) argued the successive council tax freezes have left taxpayers better off and therefore “pumped £8 million into the local economy.”
In proposing his budget for 2016/17 he said: “when we were first elected in 2011, we made some tough decisions, we cut senior management and we shred back office services.
“The other parties didn’t want us to do this.
“But here we are delivering our second surplus budget in a row.”