Milton Keynes Council’s Cabinet is going up to the wire by recommending the authority demands that residents pay a 2.99 per cent rise in its element of the council tax.
If Full Council later this month agrees to taking the benchmark Band D precept up to £1,381.65, it will be the most the authority can increase the tax by before it has to call a local referendum to approve spending plans.
MK Council’s 2019-20 precept includes an amount for the borough’s parish and town councils, but excludes the demands made by the fire service and police. The total council tax payable from April will be higher as the police for example are also looking at charging more.
In a meeting lasting a little under one hour on Tuesday, February 5, councillors considered a 316-page budget which will raise £117.27million.
There were political skirmishes to indicate there will be some meatier political battles before the final budget is set at Full Council on February 20. Even though the 23 Conservatives make up the largest group, Labour’s 21 councillors have minority control because of support from the 12 Lib Dems. There is one Independent, former Conservative Andy Dransfield.
Cllr Robert Middleton, Labour’s Cabinet member responsible for Resources and Innovation is the city’s equivalent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He reported that the council looks set to have an under spend of £388,000 spare from its 2018-19 budget. He contrasted MK with neighbouring Tory Northamptonshire, where councillors have been forced to cut back.
“I am pleased to report that because of the hard work of the finance team there is now an under spend of £388,000, a considerable improvement. That gives us greater scope for flexibility which The Leader might wish to take in order to try to make some further improvements in the borough despite the backdrop of austerity.”
The Leader, Cllr Pete Marland, took the opportunity to propose a range of other amendments to use up some of last year’s forecast under spend.
> An extra £60,000 can be used to keep “non commercial” bus services on the roads.
> £25,000 would be put aside to fit out a new community centre in Heelands at the site of the former Suffolk Punch pub.
> £40,000 for youth counselling to improve children’s access to mental health services.
> £50,000 to fix 10,000 more potholes. Last year they fixed 20,000 potholes.
> £25,000 for public engagement around MK Futures.
> £25,000 to complete the transfer of Thrift Farm from Buckinghamshire County Council to MK Council, if Buckinghamshire County Council agrees to take that option.
> To put £25,000 back into concessionary bus fares for elderly people. The council had been planning to reduce the times that elderly people can use the buses for free.
The Labour group will also be proposing spending money on a domestic abuse co-ordination officer, a sustainability officer, and on raising the amount it can charge landlords who keep homes empty for a long time.
Conservative opposition leader Cllr Alex Walker, attacked the leadership for waste and the “huge reserves” held by the council. He said: “This is by no means the worst budget you have put forward and I will leave my praise there. There are a number of concerns including a lack of ideas and ambition on savings.
“We will making some amendents and I look forward to the budget debate.”
Cllr Robin Bradburn said he was “very pleased that we have a balanced budget with a small surplus and I commend you.” He attacked the Conservatives for highlighting a problem which “did not exist” over subsidies for bus services.