At the Sedgemoor District Council meeting on the 22nd February, the ruling Tory Group steamrollered through their budget which included a council tax increase of 3.4% – an additional £5 per year on a Band D property, and a 1.25% charge for the Somerset Rivers Authority. This equates to a £1.80 per Band D property. The vote was carried 34-8 with all Tories both Ukippers and the solitary Lib Dem voting it through with the 8 Labour members opposing.
Sedgemoor Council Leader Cllr Duncan McGinty (East Polden, Con) said the budget was “prudent, forward thinking financial management” and described Sedgemoor as “Hinkley ready” and his budget as “balanced but with no showstopping headlines”
Labour urges extra measures
The Labour Group disagreed and put forward an amendment to the Tory budget proposals which further supported the prevention of homelessness, the building of Council Houses and included a skills programme for the local labour force.
Cllr Mick Lerry (Bridgwater Victoria, Lab), leader of the Labour Group on SDC said:“The Labour group recognise the need to increase Council Tax to make sure that there is no loss in the accumulation of income for the future. However rather than increasing the precept for the Somerset Rivers Authority, the 70,921K should be paid for from the Community Development Fund. At the same time the 1 million Economic Growth Accelerator Fund should be withdrawn, as it has not been used by businesses in the last 2 years. This money should now be used to put real growth in the economy. Such as the employment of Council apprentices, the Training Skills Hub, tackling Homelessness and the building of more Council houses”.
Labour amendment in detail
Mick then went on to outline the proposals in the Labour amendment:
“The following should be used from the Community Development Fund.
- A sum of 70K for the Council apprenticeship training programme.
- 105,500K to be used for early intervention work to prevent homelessness, during a time when local people could be displaced from their rented accommodation.
- 50k for the Underconstruction Training Hub to support the up skilling of the local workforce, especially for those workers who were over the age of 24.
- 5 million to be used from the Housing Revenue Account for the building of, much needed, Council houses.
“All of which is affordable and would allow the Council to have a legitimate balanced budget for 2017/18, while at the same time increasing the funds available in the Community Development Fund, for projects that emerged during the financial year. Whereas the Tory budget would continue to commit finance to scheme that was not working for local businesses and the local economy”.
Somerset Rivers Authority costs should be shared
Mick then went on to explain how the present legislation going through Parliament, on the funding of the Somerset Rivers Authority, was disappointing and not the outcome that was expected: “The Government imposed the SRA on Somerset and tax payers in Sedgemoor are still paying the majority of the Internal Drainage Board levies and are expected to pay extra for the Somerset Rivers Authority. It was anticipated that this would be an opportunity to share the costs of both the IDB levies and SRA levy for all tax payers in Somerset, instead of just Sedgemoor. As there was money available in the Council budget, then the Council should pay the bill for the SRA, rather than local taxpayers.”
Cllr Lerry said “The Labour Group are not prepared to see 1 million to be left idle in the Economic Growth Accelerator Fund for another year, when local businesses were not borrowing, as they could get cheaper loans elsewhere due to low interest rates. The money should be used to address the issues of skills training and the local economy, such as house building or Council income generation projects.”
Labour budget urges big spend on housing
Cllr Lerry summed up “The Labour amendment to use 5 million to build Council houses, showed that Labour were really determined to support the local economy, while building homes that were needed. Within the present climate of the decline in house building and the financial difficulties for first time buyers, this was now the time to build.”
The Labour amendment was seconded by Cllr Brian Smedley (Bridgwater Westover, Lab) but lost 33-9 with All 8 Labour members + the Lib Dem supporting and all 31 Tories and the 2 Kippers voting it down.
Crucial moment for Bridgwater
Speaking after the meeting Cllr Smedley, Leader of Bridgwater Town Council said “There are large parts of this budget which we are happy to support because working together we can bring benefit to Bridgwater at this crucial moment in our economic history – work on the Celebration Mile, the Northgate project, Apprenticeships, the Town Centre CIM bids, Refurb of Bridgwater Railway Station, Retail Park expansion and we have as a Town Council contributed funding to elements of this where needed. Our priority is to work with Sedgemoor where possible, however now is also a time for them to commit those additional funds they are unhelpfully tying up elsewhere, to ensure that Bridgwater people get the benefit of the opportunities available NOW!. Councillor Lerry’s budget was detailed, well thought out and deserved more consideration than a simple wall of Tory hands voting it down.”
The 2 UKIP councilors backed the Tory budget, the single Lib Dem member backed both the Labour amendment AND the Tory budget.