Council Tax in Plymouth to go up two per cent as chiefs defend 'no hope, no ambition' budget
CITY council tax will rise by two per cent from April it has been confirmed, despite fierce opposition from Conservatives.
Council finance chiefs yesterday defended their handling of Plymouth's economy against accusations that they had created a "no hope, no ambition budget".
Plymouth City Council yesterday approved 2013/14 spending of £212.56 million, which will see council tax go up by 2 per cent, as previously reported by The Herald. The Labour-led administration rejected Conservative calls to accept a Government handout to freeze council tax bills for a third year running.
Cllr Mark Lowry, the Cabinet member for finance, told The Herald: "The National Audit Office has identified that 12per cent of local authorities are at risk of not balancing their budgets in future if they take the council tax freeze.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Wednesday, May 22 2013
"I have no intention of mismanaging our finances and including Plymouth on the list of councils at risk of bankruptcy."
He said budget cuts were the result of a reduction of £7.8million in the Government settlement grant, a cut of 7.4per cent. "This is the largest cut the council has had to deal with since wartime budgets were set."
But Cllr Ian Bowyer, the Conservative finance spokesman, told the meeting of the full council: "This is a no hope, no ambition budget. All we have had is a lot of hot air blaming the Government for everything."
He said the Labour administration showed a lack of moral courage by setting the council tax rise at two per cent – just short of the threshold for triggering a local referendum.
"Residents would reject a council tax rise and expect the council to live within its means."
Cllr Ted Fry (Con, Compton) said: "The Conservatives froze council tax for two years. Yet we opened the Life Centre, attracted the British Art Show, attracted the America's Cup and helped Plymouth Argyle.
"This budget makes totally unnecessary demands on residents."
Cllr David Stark (Con, Compton) said he was surprised the council had not accepted a Government grant to freeze council tax.
"You are asking the citizens of Plymouth to pay an extra £1.7million this year."
The council tax rise of two per cent will include the precepts for Devon and Cornwall Police, which has also imposed a two per cent rise, and the fire authority, which is asking taxpayers for an extra 1.9 per cent.
Cllr Vivien Pengelly, the Conservative group leader, said Labour had wasted money on reviewing the incinerator planning decision, providing administrative assistance to Cabinet members and councillors, and hiring outside consultants.
Cllr David James (Con, Plympton St Mary) said last week's revelation in The Herald that a bus stop had been painted in the wrong place was a good example of council waste.
Cllr Dr David Salter (Con, Plympton Chaddlewood) called the budget "166 pages of politically correct burble". He said only four pages made any sense.
Cllr Ian Darcy (Lab, Erle) said: "This confirms that the Labour mantra is alive and well – Spend, spend, spend, borrow more, then spend some more and blame the Tories when they come in to sort out the mess."
Cllr Nicky Williams (Lab, Honicknowle), the Cabinet member for children and young people, said savings were being made in children's social care.
"Early intervention is the key. We have to reduce demand, establish lower prices and bring services closer to Plymouth," she said.
Cllr Peter Smith, the deputy leader, was cheered by his own side when he said the council will "be a living wage employer this year".
The council has pledged to raise people on the minimum wage to the £7.20 a hour which is considered a living wage for adults.
The council will also spend £166million over four years on capital projects.
Cllr Lowry said this would include new schools and academies, already approved.
A new £4 million recycling centre at Chelson Meadow was back on the list of projects, he said.
And the council will push ahead with a History Centre.
£1million will be invested in the city's crematoriums and there will be more improvements to West Hoe Pier.
Cllr Lowry said the city would borrow £6.3 million in the 2013/14 financial year, and this would rise to £10.1 million in 2014/15.