Council leader accused of ‘vanity projects’ as tax rises

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THE leader of a Yorkshire council has defended a controversial increase in council tax amid accusations the authority is pursuing a series of “vanity projects” while more than 200 jobs are due to be axed.

Taxpayers in York will face a 1.9 per cent rise in the city council’s slice of the council tax bill during the next financial year after budget plans were approved.

York Council’s leader James Alexander was adamant the authority had been left with no alternative but to push ahead with the tax increase while slashing expenditure due to dramatic reductions in the Government’s funding.

But opposition councillors claimed the Labour-run administration had focused on unnecessary initiatives including an Arts Barge project and introducing 20mph speed limits.

The Conservative group’s leader Ian Gillies said: “We honestly feel that the Labour administration has not tackled the difficult decisions. It is pursuing vanity projects which have meant it has had to increase council tax at a time when hard-pressed residents would have welcomed a tax freeze for the next 12 months.”

The tax increase means an average increase of 38p per week for the city’s residents, and comes after a 2.9 per cent council tax rise in York for this financial year despite the Government’s attempts to impose freezes nationally.

A further 240 jobs will be lost at the council over the next two years as savings totalling £20m are enforced. The council is due to have lost 488 posts in the five years up until March 2015.

Other measures in the budget, approved at a full council meeting, will see car parking fees rise by 20p an hour for residents and 10p an hour for visitors. Parks are due to be left unlocked overnight amid the cost-cutting drive, prompting concerns they will become magnets for anti-social behaviour and crime. There will also be a £1m cut from the City and Environmental Services directorate as management numbers are slashed from 14 to seven.

But Coun Alexander maintained the cuts were necessary to cope with the yawning chasm in the council’s budgets due to the reduction in funding from Westminster.

He said: “We have had to make very tough decisions, but these are decisions which we have not shied away from. You simply cannot continue with every service in the way it has been provided in the past if the Government decides to cut funding as it has.

“It is always difficult when people are faced with losing their jobs, but there are going to be redundancies as we are having to lose services and make efficiencies.”

Coun Alexander stressed administration costs have been slashed from £17m to £13m since 2009-10, although he admitted the streamlining had started under the previous Liberal Democrat administration.