Lancaster City Council has set its budget for 2018/19, promising to focus on a programme of investment to ensure the district thrives as a vibrant regional centre.
Some of the projects the council says it will be working on over the next year include the development of a solar farm at Middleton, the clearance of land at Heysham Gateway for industrial use, expansion of the facilities at Williamson Park, and modernising the waste collection service.
Councillors voted in favour of the budget, including a 2.99 per cent rise in the council’s portion of council tax, at a meeting last week.
There were 30 votes in favour, 15 against and seven abstentions.
A budget of £30,000 has also been set aside to put recommendations into action on reducing the use of plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups. Economic development also features, with proposed investment to improve the visitor economy, increase business start‐ups, grow existing businesses and open up the district to new national and international trading opportunities.
The Conservative group had proposed an alternative budget which it said would wipe out any deficits, not increase council tax, make big efficiency savings and reduce agency staff and consultancy costs. Coun Charlie Edwards said that the Labour group is “asleep at the wheel and wasting our money”.
But council leader Eileen Blamire hit back, saying the council had been able to protect front line services despite a £7.5m central government cut.
Coun Anne Whitehead, Cabinet member with responsibility for finance, said: “In simple terms the main challenge of budget setting is to match priorities against what is affordable financially.
“But in reality it is much more than that – it’s about how the city council is able to realise its vision of putting the district on the map and making it an even better place to live, work and visit.
“Against this are the very real challenges posed by having to do more for less.
“Since 2010 our net spending has reduced by 30 per cent - that’s a huge amount and to steer the council through these financially turbulent times has required real financial discipline.
“Although there are still many uncertainties ahead - not least the impact of Brexit - we are in a position where we can invest for the future in projects that will have real long-term positive impact on the district.”
Coun Edwards said: “In one breath Labour say our proposals are terrible because we are outsourcing our services, but then in the next breath they pay a private company £5m to do up Salt Ayre (which is still making a loss) and are paying £500,000 to private consultants.
“Our proposals were sensible, not about outsourcing for the sake of outsourcing, but to help us get the best value for money for taxpayers.
“Why put your politics before the people?
“Lancaster City Council needs a shake up. There is no political leadership whatsoever at the moment.”
Labour group and council leader, Coun Eileen Blamire, said: “This is a budget that invests in vital public services, arts, leisure and solar energy, helps people on low incomes and supports businesses and the local economy.
“We have again protected frontline services, despite £7.5m of Tory Government cuts to our funding in recent years and attempts by local Tory councillors to outsource services to the private sector for profit - they have learned nothing from their ill-fated deal with BT One Connect in Lancashire and the collapse of Carillion.
“We are again helping people on the lowest incomes with council tax, meaning many will not be affected by £1.40 a week hike for a Band D property imposed by the Tories running the county council.
“The modest 12p a week rise in the city council’s share - less for many households - will help us to invest in our district and make improvements to key services like street cleaning.
“Labour councillors are investing in a cleaner, safer, fairer and more prosperous district.”
As 80 per cent of the district’s homes are in the lowest bands (A to C) the actual increase will be even lower than 12p a week for the majority of households.
Low paid households who receive full Council Tax benefit will not be affected by the increase. The council has previously agreed that its new local Council Tax support scheme will maintain benefits at current levels.
While as the billing authority Lancaster City Council collects council tax, it only receives around 13 per cent of the total bill to spend on its services.
Excluding parishes, of the remaining bill, the majority goes to Lancashire County Council (73 per cent), with precepts from Lancashire Police Authority (10 oer cent) and Lancashire Combined Fire Authority (four per cent) making up the rest.