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Friday, 28 November 2014

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Uproar at Barrow service charge hikes vote

A row erupted at Barrow town hall as a budget which includes increases to council tax and various fees was adopted by the ruling Labour group.

The opposition Conservative group on Barrow Borough Council criticised Labour for declining the government’s offer of a council tax freeze grant and accused the party of needlessly storing money in reserves.

But Labour rejected the Tories’ alternative budget by 27 votes to five, claiming it was a short-sighted, one-year plan which would land the council in more financial trouble further down the line, following cuts in government funding.

Councillor Jack Richardson, leader of the Tory opposition, accused Labour of “not understanding finances” and criticised the transfer of more than £400,000 to reserves. He told the meeting in Barrow Town Hall on Tuesday night: “I’ve got to give this Labour group full marks for consistency in their previous two budgets.

“They’ve defied common sense and a sense of responsibility to ratepayers by refusing to accept the government’s rate relief grant and, at the same time, increasing charges. At the moment, we’re maintaining our reserves, so what’s the problem?”

Cllr Richardson claimed that although the council had received a “bad settlement”, it was not “getting cut around the throat”. He added the chief executive of the time said communities minister Eric Pickles should have been “awarded the freedom of the borough” when he gave Barrow a transition grant of £4.3m in 2011.

But Labour accused the Tories of “playing up to the press” and said the budget was part of its financial strategy up to 2015/16, designed to reduce the budget to levels reflecting the coalition government’s financial settlement.

If no action had been taken, then by 2015/16 the council’s shortfall would be around £5m, Labour said. Councillor Brendan Sweeney, Labour deputy leader, described the alternative budget as a “nonsense” with “no regard for the future”. He said: “We’re facing increasing problems and if these government proposals continue to come through, then councils right the way across the country will be in disastrous circumstances in a very short period of time.”

Labour’s Councillor Anne Burns said the budget was a strategy to deal with the “terrible situation handed down to us in local authority spending”, to “a council in the bottom quarter and one of the poorest areas”. She said: “The public may think the council tax freeze is a good idea, but when the outcome is explained to them – we would have to make more cuts next year – I think they would understand why we are doing this.

“The council tax increase will add £2.85 a year – 5p a week to ensure we are stable and have a balanced budget. The Tory group must wonder what’s coming next because this government is conning the public with assurances services are safe in their hands.”

Conservative Councillor Ray Guselli hit back: “My worry is that you say 5p a week for ‘stability’ and there are job reductions, rising charges and cuts to services. That’s what 5p has achieved. The council tax grant is a one-off, but it happens every year, so I guess that means its a two-off or a three-off. We are offering a balanced alternative every year.

“Councillor Tony Callister said licensing is a fair system; I hope that brings some comfort for the taxi drivers of the town.”

Labour group leader Councillor Dave Pidduck said the Tories were trying to make Labour appear “wicked”. He added: “’Use our reserves’, they say. I always look at it like our bank account. What we are facing are unknown bills that are going to come in. And what they’re saying is let’s go on holiday. Let’s go to Spain and spend it and worry about the bills when we come back. We can’t do that.”

Have your say

Re Wally: I agree with your comment that the NWEMAIL don't print all the comments, therefore why waste time writing them. It is for this reason I have stopped taking their paper.
The post by RM about voting these Councillors out due to the fact they do what they want, not what is good for the people who pay their salaries plus expenses. This is why we are going to be left with one full time Fire Engine in Barrow and none in Dalton, because the council members in Barrow who are also county Cpuncillors couldn't stand up and fight, unlike Kendal, Penrith, Whitehaven etc. I doubt very much if we will see any changes to the Councillors in May as for some strange reason the voters that can be bothered to vote can't see what they are doing wrong.

Posted by June on 10 March 2014 at 22:54

I dont know why I bother writing in to these pages as the NWEM is not Interested in the the great Council rip off & either dont bother putting in decent honest comments or withdraw the articles before people have there say, a typical article was the disgrace of our council not wanting to give us Bird proof Bin bags recently? Or even recognise the very real Issues around Public Health & Safety with annual Gull problems? Now yet again in this story, this Council is not Interested in assisting its Voters & Tax Payers, Its one abiding Aim is to have a pop at this, Agreed Awful Government,too the detriment of Us, & by that I mean the good people of our Community? Stop playing Politics with our lives! & I mean all Local Councillors, as you are equally as bad as one another? We need Help for (our residents) Not snide digs at National Government, whoever they maybe! Sort yourselves out the lot of you & start looking after locality & its people!

Posted by Wally ! on 8 March 2014 at 00:33

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