Budget crisis takes council ‘to the brink’

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Milton Keynes was being “taken to the brink” of financial meltdown last night, with the council’s annual budget set to be rejected.

As the Citizen went to press the city’s Labour administration were due to have its budget plans bombed to pieces to a meeting of all councillors.

Both Conservatives and Lib Dems had decided to vote down the proposals because of a plethora of concerns.

And council leader Peter Marland admitted this meant taking the council “to the brink”.

Lib Dem group leader Douglas McCall said: “I’ve been a councillor for 19 years and this is simply the worst budget I have ever seen.

“The cuts to bus subsidies mean that two-thirds of those services getting support will be cut. Well, if people can’t get afford a car then they won’t be able to get to their jobs. This is not a time to be putting the worst paid people out of work.

“The cuts to voluntary organisations, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, are completely short-sighted.

“And the cuts to homeless hostels, which will leave the most vulnerable people out on the streets, possibly sleeping in shop doorways, are an embarrassment to Milton Keynes.”

Each year the council presents its budget to be 
voted on by all councillors.

But because Labour do not have an overall majority on the council they are reliant on other parties to support their plans, and both the Lib Dems and Conservatives claim that the current budget cannot be salvaged.

An all-day crisis meeting will now be held on Friday as all three party leaders try to thrash out a new budget with the help of senior council officers, and the full council will meet again on Wednesday next week.

If the three parties cannot agree a new budget then Labour will have to put up their own stand-alone budget again.

Insiders say that the Lib Dems and Conservatives would abstain from that vote, rather than risk the entire budget collapsing which would mean council officers might have to call in the government to intervene.

Conservative leader Edith Bald said: “I came into politics to speak up for people who don’t have a voice, or those who are afraid to speak out. People living in homeless hostels are one example of that.

“Closing homeless hostels is attacking the most vulnerable people in our community, and that is not why I entered local politics. That’s not why any of us entered politics.”

Council leader Peter Marland challenged the other parties to work with him.

He said: “People in Milton Keynes will understand why the other parties don’t want to vote for the budget. They won’t understand why the Tories and Lib Dems want to take the council to the brink.

“All of this could have been done weeks ago. My door is always open, and I am always prepared to have this conversation.

“I am optimistic this will be resolved, even if it will be difficult.We’ve heard a lot about what’s wrong with our budget - we haven’t heard the Lib Dems or Tories offer an alternative.”