Thursday, February 28, 2008

14p a week

That's the amount Darlington Councillors were bitterly divided over this evening as Labour's Budget plans were approved.

As you've probably seen in the Echo, after the most comprehensive listening exercise we've ever conducted at Budget time, there were substantial changes to the proposals for the revenue account next year. Whether it was on pest control, or the environmental health service or the Parish Grant, Labour listened and made changes.

On top of that, as Cllr John Williams outlined in his introductory speech, Darlington is independently rated as a 4 star Council, and was recently judged as 'excellent' for delivering value for money services. We still have the lowest Council Tax in the North East, whilst continuing to deliver a high level of care to vulnerable adults and disabled people for example, at a time when most councils are providing 'last resort' services only.

The plans include £108 million of capital to be invested over the next 4 years, including the rebuilding of Hummerknott School and North Road Primary, £6 million on sheltered housing accommodation and £3 million each year on highways.

The major debate was between Labour and the Tories, although as I shall blog later, there was a fascinating frisson at the end in the wake of a LibDem amendment.

For the Tories, Cllr. Charles Johnson's speech was as much about damage limitation as anything. In response to Labour's draft budget, the Tories had initially come up with a plan which magically involved restoring cuts whilst reducing Council Tax by making some airy-fairy promises about reducing waste. When Town Hall officers said that the Conservatives' proposals were in effect so vague as to be meaningless, Charles endured a torrid time at Cabinet when he not only refused to answer questions about their plans - he wouldn't defend them either.

Fortunately, by the meeting this evening the Council's financial position looked a little rosier, so the Tories could afford to ditch the most of their earlier proposals. That still left Charles arguing somehow that whilst a 4.9% increase as planned by Labour was monstrously iniquitous, somehow his own party's 3.9% was a model of prudence.

Labour's listening blitz left the Tories trying to work themselves into a lather about the Council Tax increase which rang hollow. As Cllr Steve Harker pointed out, the difference between Labour and the Tories' plans amounted to 14p a week as far as the rise in Council Tax was concerned. The debate ended not with a bang, but a whimper.

1 comment:

miketually said...

I have to agree that the increase isn't really that big. I had a similar discussion over on Town Liar, where I pointed out that the difference between the proposed increase and an in-line with inflation increase was around 25p a week for me.