“This is not a cuts budget” say Tories...as £33m of cuts across Northamptonshire are rubberstamped

Protest outside County Hall before Northamptonshire County Council's budget setting meeting
Protest outside County Hall before Northamptonshire County Council's budget setting meeting

Northamptonshire County Council has rubberstamped plans to increase council tax by two per cent, and make cuts of more than £40 million to its budget.

The tax increase of 1.99 per cent, which was approved by councillors at County Hall on Thursday, will raise an extra £4.4 million in the 2014-15 financial year.

The authority has had to save more than £33.4 million this year, as part of an ongoing cuts programme of £128 million over the next five years.

But cabinet member for finance, Councillor Bill Parker said the 2014-15 plan was “not a cuts budget”.

The council has pledged to increase spending by £12 million on the failing children’s services, while maintaining spending on library services, country parks and its road maintenance programme.

It says the tax increase will cost the average household an extra 39p a week.

Proposing the budget, Councillor Parker (Con, Clover Hill), said: “Since we have been in office, the county council has fared better than other councils. We are very prudent with our money and thorough with our budgeting.

“This budget is not a cuts budget. It is a budget of change, of transformation. We’ve not closed any libraries, country parks or fire stations.

“It is a budget which protects the most vulnerable in society.

“Since 2005, we have brought sanity and fairness to the council tax system, and people in Northamptonshire are paying £400 less than the average Band D property in the UK.”

The meeting also heard the alternative budgets from the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups.

Labour’s proposals included implementation of the living wage for 470 county council employees, funded by developing land near Pytchley, next to the A14, for commercial use.

The party also proposed a cut of £1.2 million in the subsidy to the Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership (NEP), and a reversal in the cuts to community grants, and the Connexions service.

Councillor Mick Scrimshaw (Lab, Northall), shadow cabinet member for finance, said: “The living wage would given the 470 lowest-paid workers an immediate benefit.

“The economic benefits of NEP are difficult to quantify, and other local enterprise partnerships have seen no money from their county councils.”

“We would also like to see cuts to community grants reversed. We are not convinced this is the right time for such a big cut.”

The Liberal Democrats proposed the formation of an ‘economic support taskforce’ for Northamptonshire, with a £300,000 investment to target young people struggling to get back into work.

Councillor Chris Lofts, (Lib, Towcester and Roade), the party’s finance spokesman, said: “This budget suffocates community groups, and the voluntary sector.

“The key issue is leadership, which is more interested in big business.

“You proudly parade council tax as one of the lowest in the country, but place all the blame at the Government’s feet for making these cuts. This paints you as Tories of the old world.”

Ahead of the meeting, a group of protestors staged a demonstration against the cuts outside County Hall, including the removal of small grants for community groups.

Ron Mendel, chairman of the Northampton Trade Union Council, said: “Each of the cuts are affecting different groups of people.

“The most disadvantaged and vulnerable are the worst affected. Community and volunteer groups are getting cuts to their grants, which makes a mockery of the ‘big society’.”

Dave Green, from Save Our Services, said: “The other parties are essentially saying ‘our cuts are better than your cuts’. It’s like giving a Turkey a choice at Christmas - do you want to be roasted or be made into a curry?”

Anjona Roy, chief executive of Northamptonshire Rights & Equality Council, said: “The county council seems to be going backwards on equality.

“The voluntary sector grant cuts are a tiny fragment of the budget, but have a big impact. These £500 grants go to the grass roots of your communities.

“You need the voluntary sector more than ever, and really there is no sense in making these cuts.”