Conservatives and Labour in council budget row

Leeds City Council’s ruling Labour group has locked horns with opposition conservative councillors ahead of a crunch meeting this week to finalise the authority’s budget for the forthcoming year.

The authority’s proposed budget – which includes further cuts in services and an increase in council tax – was approved by the council’s executive board earlier this month, and is set to be rubber-stamped at a full council meeting this week.

Conservative leader Coun Andrew Carter has called for 23 amendments to Leeds City Council's proposed budget.

Conservative leader Coun Andrew Carter has called for 23 amendments to Leeds City Council's proposed budget.

The opposition Conservative group has accused Labour of “passing the buck” to central Government over its spending cuts, while suggesting amendments to the budget, including scrapping charges for household waste and town centre parking, as well as extra funding for other services.

But the leader of Leeds City Council claimed the Conservatives “weren’t fooling anyone”, and that the proposed amendments were simply an attempt to divert attention from government austerity.

A joint statement today from leader and deputy leader of the Conservatives called on Labour to commit to a “rethink” of the Holbeck managed approach – dubbed Britain’s first legal red light district.

The proposed amendments also include removing charges for inert household waste, scrapping parking charges in Otley town centre and to set up a new council-owned company to help accelerate housebuilding.

Conservative group leader Coun Andrew Carter (Calverley and Farsley) said: “Government is providing hundreds of millions of pounds to the city and our amendments would seek to enhance that by delivering a much more ambitious agenda that would see opportunities for new homeownership, revamped waste services that deliver far more opportunities for recycling and £550,000 of investment in our local town and district high streets.

“It’s time to stop complaining and passing the buck and get on with delivering the services that people in Leeds want.”

The council states updated figures show that main government funding for Leeds will reduce by another £15.2m next year. The authority is proposing a 2.99 per cent rise in council tax, added to by an additional one per cent precept to support the rising pressures on adult social care services.

The budget proposed by Labour also shows plans to reduce the council workforce by 69 full-time-equivalent members of staff, but added the council’s minimum wage rate will rise to £9.18 per hour – 18 pence above the so-called Real Living Wage.

Deputy leader of the Conservatives Alan Lamb added: “When you look at the administration’s budget to me it is clear that they have run out of ideas. The financial climate for local government remains challenging but funding is available, for the second year in a row the net budget for the Council has increased.”

He added the group’s amendments would also commit an extra £300,000 to tackle antisocial behaviour, and an extra £100,000 to help address period poverty.

But Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake (Lab, Middleton Park) hit back, accusing the group of attempting to whitewash over problems created by government austerity.

She said: “Coun Carter and Coun Lamb aren’t fooling anyone with this cynical attempt to divert attention away from the actions of their friends in Westminster.

“Government austerity has decimated funding for councils like Leeds, removing a staggering £1.5bn from services here since 2010 with no end in sight.

“Even more shamefully, while urban councils like Leeds have suffered most, they have stood by while affluent county councils in the South have been protected by their Government.

“The administration is proud of its record in Leeds. We have prioritised what remaining funding we have for services for vulnerable children and adults, with more than 62 per cent of our budget now spent on those services.

“We are the only major city to have achieved an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating for children’s services. We have protected funding for highways and street cleaning services, and at the same time we are growing the Leeds economy and creating jobs by attracting organisations such as Channel 4 to relocate here.

“We have much lower rates of homelessness in Leeds compared to other cities and we are helping tackle the scourge of low paid jobs by bringing in the Real Living Wage for over 2,700 low paid staff.”

The budget is set to be discussed at a full Leeds City Council meeting on Wednesday, February 27.