Council approves budget plan

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MILTON Keynes Council have approved the budget for 2013/14 at a meeting tonight (Wednesday).

After nearly three and a half hours, the 51 councillors finally came to a conclusion that saw the budget put through which looks to deal with a £16.7 million reduction in government funding.

It will see an increase in council tax, a reduced bus service and a new £10 fee for the collection of bulky waste.

Leader of the council and the Conservatives, Councillor Andrew Geary added: “We have had to create a budget in the most difficult financial time our local authority has ever seen.

“We have done this while protecting services and the most vulnerable in our city.

“Most importantly we have secured a safe future for Milton Keynes and demonstrated yet again that the Conservatives are trying to lead the city responsibly, not by playing politics.”

Cabinet Member for Finance Councillor Edith Bald said: “I am confident that this budget, which has delivered security to valuable council services such as libraries, nurseries and weekly refuse collections, will see Milton Keynes weather the financial storm that we have found ourselves in.”

Opening the evening, Mr Geary said: “This is the second budget this administration have presented to council and it comes against a background of nine per cent per year of government funding cuts, and it shows no sign of letting up.

“Despite this background, by focussing on driving out inefficiencies, by reducing council overheads and by championing new service models and ways of working, this administration has been able to retain essential services, especially to the young, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged.”

Councillor Norman Miles, leader of the Labour group said: “This is a fire fighting budget. It is hard to see the long term strategies being carried out. It is hard to see how the policies what we all work together to finalise will be carried out with this budget.

“We have always tried to be a responsible opposition because other people do what they want.

“Unfortunately, we understand there is only so much money. We cannot conjure up more. In our amendments, we’ve looked across a variety of fields to treat the worst of the cuts.

“I will not allow our group to let in an external group to tell us what to do.

The Lib Dems put forward two amendments – firstly suggesting reducing the bus subsidy cuts to £287,152, and later asking for bulky waste collection to remain free.

Councillor Douglas McCall, leader of the Liberal Democrat group said: “It’s not about how you cut it up, it’s about who you affect by doing it.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if there had been a deal between these two old parties, with once again Labour sitting on their hands.

“The Tories are changing policy through this budget, without bothering to change the policies first. It has always been the policy of this council to support public transport via parking charges.

“But this year, they’ve put the fees up and cut the bus service. They have siphoned off more than £2 million from the parking funds.”

Speaking from the public gallery, Alan Francis of the Green Party, and as a committee member of Milton Keynes Bus Users group said: “Increases in charges will hit the most vulnerable. Where are they supposed to find the extra money?

“The proposals are to increase the fares to save £300,000. People should be encouraged to use public transport. But the bus subsidies are reduced by £400,000, so some areas will lose their evening and Sunday services.

“We are in favour of the increase in the car parking charges.”

Responding to questions about the bus subsidies and increased car parking fees, Councillor John Bint, portfolio holder for transport: “We are trying to balance the transport budget. I think the proposal from us makes a lot of sense, and the proposal from the Lib Dems doesn’t have any foundation, because it hasn’t said where the money comes from. It says ‘let’s just spend more money.’”

Speaking on his group’s bulky waste amendment, Mr McCall added: “We are concerned that this will increase fly-tipping because people can’t afford or don’t want to pay.

“Yet again, the Tories are targeting the poor because poor people can’t afford to take their rubbish to the tip while the rich in the 4x4s can.”

However, Labour’s first two amendments, featuring a cut in the proposed £15 bulky waste collection fee to £10 and enough of a reduction in the bus subsidy cut to allow the 5 and 28/29 services to continue, were approved by Mr Geary.

At the final vote, the budget was carried with 20 votes in favour (Conservatives), 15 against (Lib Dems) and 16 abstentions (Labour).

Summing up, Mr Geary said: “We are investing serious amounts of capital into this city to ensure it for the future. If that’s not strategic direction, then I don’t know what is.

“This isn’t a budget we’re proud of setting, we work in difficult times and we’re setting a budget to protect those who need protecting and can balance the book.”

Afterwards, Mr McCall said: “I fear that the poorest and most vulnerable people in Milton Keynes will be hit.

“I predict a hard year for everybody, particularly those who can’t afford the increases in the cost of living, council taxes, rent and energy bills.”