Decision to freeze council tax in Central Bedfordshire for 2023/24 could impact next year’s finances
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Central Bedfordshire Council’s decision to freeze its council tax for 2023/24 “looks much worse now”, according to an opposition group leader.
It went against the views of some council officers, a corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee meeting was told.
The council has reported a half yearly budget gap of almost £9m which could widen without prompt action to reduce the deficit.
Liberal Democrat Leighton Linslade South councillor Shaun Roberts noted “it gets harder making savings because everything obvious has been done” in recent years.
“There are national pressures which need to be acknowledged, such as the economy, children’s services expense and homelessness driven by factors outside of Central Bedfordshire,” he said.
“Officers I believe felt council tax should have gone up and not been frozen. That decision now is looking much worse and will impact into next year’s finances.
“Residents want more from the council. If we can’t control spending they’ll get less. There’s nothing that says how have we got here or how we’ll get out of it.”
Independent councillor for Flitwick and Steppingley Heather Townsend wondered if “a cultural change is needed around how we do things, without leaving the digitally excluded behind”.
CBC’s director of resources Charles Warboys explained: “Ultimately the budget is a political decision. We may have ideas for what should happen, but we don’t have to get re-elected.
“That’s the nature of the talks ongoing with the executive and it’s always been that way.”
Conservative Dunstable Central councillor Carole Hegley reminded Independent Aspley and Woburn councillor and executive member for finance John Baker that council leader Adam Zerny said they “spent six months scrutinising the council’s budget and figures forensically”.
Conservative Westoning, Flitton and Greenfield councillor James Jamieson asked: “Why has he not come to this meeting and said we’re overspent and this what we’re proposing to do about it?
“We should be scrutinising your action plan. You don’t seem to have access to the data, so you can’t share it with us. What are you doing about it and what should you have done about it?”
Councillor Baker replied: “I mentioned a paper going to the executive soon for discussion around policy changes on home school transport.
“We’re considering the options which were available to the previous administration and the one before that, but we’ll start actioning some of them.
“We need to do something about it and I’m sure children’s services scrutiny will be looking at some potential solutions soon.”
Councillor Jamieson referred to “a different environment” from 13 years of hitting your budget every year “to where you’ve blown your budget massively and then say ‘I’m going to think about it’.
“What actions are you, as the portfolio holder for finance managing the money, doing to make sure the directorates hit budget?” he wondered.
Councillor Baker added: “Just a quick reminder this is your budget, not mine. The educational transport element has been overspent virtually every year since I joined the council, including when you were leader.
“Nobody’s suggesting it’s not a big issue. It’s a problem everyone on this council owns.”