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Council tax to increase for West Berkshire residents

Conservatives opt not to put up adult social care precept

WEST Berkshire residents will have a council tax rise of 1.99 per cent after the council’s budget for the forthcoming year was approved in controversial circumstances.

A furious argument over members’ speaking time led to Liberal Democrat and Green councillors virtually walking out during the debate over the budget, meaning only Conservative councillors – and one remaining Lib Dem councillor, Geoff Mayes (Burghfield and Mortimer) – voted on the final budget.

A 1.99 per cent council tax rise was approved – the highest a council can put up the tax without triggering a public referendum.

However, unlike many around the country, the council chose not to increase the adult social care precept after the number of coronavirus deaths in care homes contributed to a net underspend of £3.4m.

For the forthcoming year, the council says it will have to save £3.7m, although it won’t be making any redundancies or cuts to public services.

The increase in council tax will raise just over £2m and will take the council’s revenue budget – to be spent on day-to-day expenditure – for the forthcoming year to £139m.

Over half that money (£76.66m) will be spent on ‘People Directorate’ services, which include adult social care, public health and children and family services.

The council’s executive member for finance Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield) said the council tax increase was necessary to keep providing the same level of service to residents.

He said: “I’d dearly like to be talking about freezing or cutting tax rather than putting it up, but I also happen to live in the real world.

“The council’s costs rise year on year and it costs more every year to provide the same level of services to our residents.

“This administration is very clear that support for business and a strong local economy is essential to provide good jobs for residents and underpin the council tax and business rates base in the district.

“That funds the provision of our vital local services – you can’t have one without the other.

“We remain committed to supporting the most vulnerable in our district with increased funding in social care and we anticipate that much of the £3.2m given to us by Government for Covid-19 related pressures will be spent in this area.”

Before the councillors walked out, the Liberal Democrats had proposed 21 amendments to the budget, which would have resulted in an extra £1.2m of spending to come out of the council’s reserves.

They called for several investments, including £150,000 to explore micro hydro schemes that generate renewable energy, another £100,000 of support for libraries and £100,000 to remove the green bin charge for thousands of low-income households.

However these amendments were refused, with the Conservatives saying they couldn’t afford another £1.2m of spending.

Proposing the amendments, councillor Jeff Brooks (Thatcham West) criticised the council process of taking amendments en bloc.

He said: “Unless there’s an enlightened moment this evening, the same old budget process will be followed.

“The opposition puts forward a number of amendments, some of them spotting areas which could be improved with the administration’s budget proposals, because the leadership of the council does not have infallible capability to come up with every idea.

“You are not infallible as an administration. You will get things wrong, omit things that might be a good idea.

“But your process on budget night is to refuse everything.”

Mr Brooks added that if the amendments were taken individually they would have proposed far fewer than 21.

  • See next week’s Newbury Weekly News for more details of West Berkshire Council’s budget.

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