COUNCIL chiefs have defended price hikes in their budget plans despite a government windfall.
Stratford District Council (SDC) is set to receive £2.5million more than originally expected after central government announced a settlement of over £9million ahead of the spring budget.
Despite the extra cash, SDC has outlined plans to increase car parking charges and annual parking permits for pensioners from £10 to £50 in its 2020 budget proposals, as well as the recent decision to introduce an annual garden waste charge of £40.
The authority is also set to raise its share of the council tax by 3.6 per cent.
Liberal Democrat leader Susan Juned has hit-out at the Conservative-led council for prioritising its reserves – predicted to remain at more than £9million for the next two years – over residents’ finances.
She said: “This is a very welcome bonus for the district council. However, this extra money does throw into question a number of other budget proposals being put forward by the Conservatives.
“Why take the decision to push up car parking charges so much – again put forward as a necessary fund raising exercise – when the budget papers state that these increases are ‘interim solutions whilst a wider review of parking provision is undertaken’? Why not pause to think about the impact this will have on the town centre in Stratford?
“Why put council tax up by an inflation-beating 3.6 per cent when last year the rise – just before the council elections – was 1.5 per cent?
“Why rush the £40 charge for green waste bin collection – put forward as a fund raising exercise – when the government is still to agree its long term intentions for waste?
“We will continue to ask the Conservatives why they think residents’ money is better off in the council’s bank account rather than in the residents’ own accounts.”
But district council leader Tony Jefferson defended the plans and said tough financial times lay ahead for the authority.
He explained the council’s reserves were predicted to plunge to £3.1 million – just £500,000 above the council’s specified minimum – by 2024.
He told the Observer: “The main reason for the drop in reserves and the pressure on budgets is the decline in central government funding. We forecast that this will decline by almost £7million as central government reprioritises funding to social care, education and policing. These are not provided by district councils.
“The Liberal Democrats suggestion of deferring increases merely makes a challenging situation much more challenging still. Indeed, probably untenable. We are taking a prudent, responsible and strategic view in stark contrast to the Liberal Democrats whose approach seems to be a combination of a short term view and hoping something turns up to plug the gap.”
Coun Jefferson, who said the council had reduced expenditure in 2020/21 by £600,000, added pressure on the authority’s finances was only set to increase.
“Our Medium Term Financial Plan shows that in 2024/25 even with the money raised through car parking charges, charging for green waste and increasing council tax by the maximum amount possible we still have a deficit of £3,235,000 in that year. In short, we will have to take further actions to increase revenues and reduce spending.”
The budget is set to be discussed during a Cabinet meeting on Monday (January 13).