Council tax and rents set to rise in Milton Keynes despite £10m “one off” budget bonanza
The council’s ruling cabinet has confirmed its intention to increase council taxes and housing rents despite having millions of pounds of spare cash.
Milton Keynes Council has benefited from national government decisions on the money it receives from several different pots of funding, which have left it in an unusually flush position.
“We have a sensible, robust set of proposals to spend £10 million in projects across the borough,” said Cllr Rob Middleton (Lab, Wolverton). He says the council’s position is due to “financial prudence” of the Labour administration.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of Milton Keynes Council’s ruling cabinet, he said the council is “tackling the big issues like climate change, and biodiversity, as well as several long-standing ward projects.”
He also said the council will be putting aside £1m more to cope with the city’s homelessness crisis, and making advance payments into the pension pot.
The Labour administration’s view is that 2020-21 will be a year of relief from cuts, and they are following national government advice to increase their base level of income.
They have been allowed to increase council tax by around four per cent, but have decided on 3.49 per cent.
Cllr Middleton said the rise was “regrettable” but is lower than neighbouring Tory councils. He wants “regressive” council taxes to be replaced by a “fairer” system.
If a meeting of the full council on February 26 agrees, council house rents will be going up, too, by 2.7 per cent. It will be the first increase for some years.
The Conservative opposition has yet to decide what amendments if any they will be arguing for, including what they would do with the level of the council tax.
But their group leader, Cllr Alex Walker (Cons, Stantonbury) has pointed out that on top of the £10million extra in its revenue budget the council has another £211 million in reserves.
Although around £56 million of this reserve pot has been earmarked for projects he said: “There’s no way they will spend £56 million in two months, and they know it. It’s one of the largest pots in the country. It’s grown by close to £50m over five years.”
Speaking after the meeting Conservative budget spokesman Cllr Peter Geary (Olney) said many of the council’s spending proposals have not been through the scrutiny process.
This, he argues, means the council’s cabinet has put forward its own projects, without properly measuring whether items were needed or not.
He claims that this means the cabinet has made “morally bankrupt” decisions, including putting moss on the walls of the council offices and plans to do the same in underpasses “while the homeless sleep in tents.”
The Liberal Democrat group has an enhanced partnership with the Labour group to control the council.
On Tuesday, Lib Dem budget spokesman Cllr Robin Bradburn (Bradwell) presented an eight-point £220,000 programme, which the cabinet accepted. These include projects in Campbell Park & Old Woughton, Newport Pagnell, Bradwell, Monkston, where the party has councillors.