Gloves are coming off as Tories limber up for budget attack on Labour-led Milton Keynes Council

A senior Conservative has warned that peace is over and the party is about to declare war on the Labour-led council’s budget.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 3:05 pm

Milton Keynes Council is in the fortunate position of having £8.9 million more than it had anticipated because the general election delayed national spending changes.

“I’ve done my apolitical job here and tried to get consensus,” said Cllr Peter Geary (Cons, Olney) at a meeting on Tuesday.

“I think we have got consensus but that won’t continue into the budget meeting as I don’t expect anyone genuinely expected it would.”

Tuesday's meeting of the budget and resources scrutiny committee

The council has a budget of around £208million. Even though it has spare cash, the cabinet is proposing increasing the council tax by 3.49 per cent.

Tory group leader Cllr Alex Walker (Stantonbury) says this means council tax payers will be “on average £400 a year worse off.”

Council officers say extra money is needed in the baseline budget because of burgeoning pressures from homelessness and adult care.

Local elections are being held in Milton Keynes in May and the Conservatives want to show how they would do things differently.

For a supposedly “apolitical” committee the last budget scrutiny meeting before February’s big council tax-setting showdown was a fairly spiky affair.

Cllr Geary clashed with Labour’s elected head of finance, Cllr Rob Middleton (Wolverton), and cabinet members Hannah O’Neill (Woughton & Fishermead) and Jenny Wilson-Marklew (Stony Stratford) several times during a line-by-line examination of spending proposals.

The cabinet has earmarked serious amounts of cash on projects, including £1million for cheap bus travel for 16 and 21 year olds, £250,000 for solar panels or green roofs on the tops of bus shelters, and £100,000 on a scheme to tackle knife crime.

Also included are eight one-off schemes totalling £251,000 on various projects including the “Loughton obelisk” for £15,000, and £70,000 to support a new sports facility in Greenleys.

Committee members were critical about the lack of supporting papers to tell them how decisions had been made, and what value for money tests were carried out.

Cllr Middleton compared the council’s £8 million to the possibility of the government spending £108 billion on the HS2 rail line from London to Birmingham.

He said: “I think if we’re talking about £8 million of one-off funding versus £108 billion of one off funding from central government, I think I know where I’ll be spending my time.

“We’ve had £150 million taken from our budget since 2010 and we’ve got another £14m to find over the next three years and that is because central government has failed to fund us adequately.”

The committee agreed to make a number of recommendations, including that the cabinet should not press on regardless with spending plans if they prove to be a waste of money.