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Council tax rise in Teignbridge agreed despite 'voting blind' claims

Opposition Liberal Democrat councillors called for the meeting to be adjourned

A bizarre budget meeting in Teignbridge saw Liberal Democrats ask for the meeting to be adjourned as councillors would be ‘voting blind’.

Councillors were due to approve the 2019/20 budget at Thursday’s full council meeting – the Conservative’s proposed budget that includes a £5 a year council tax rise, freezing or reducing one hour car parking charges, and £27.8m of investments towards capital projects in the district.

But the opposition Liberal Democrats called for the meeting to be adjourned, as Cllr Alan Connett said: “Councillors are being denied access to this administration’s proposals for cuts. If we vote for this budget today, we will be voting blind, without knowing the impact and consequences of those secret cuts.”

A bid to adjourn the meeting was lost, and councillors did vote by 23 votes to 14 to agree the budget,

Cllr Stuart Barker, Teignbridge District Council’s Executive Portfolio Holder for Corporate Services, said: “Times not getting easier but we have once again set a balanced budget and we have done so without cutting any services. This is a budget that maintains services and promotes investment in housing and jobs.

“This budget is a steady one; one which will help us maintain our strong position, keep giving people what they want and need from our services and hold money back to deal with anything that arises from the uncertainty we face.

“In agreeing the budget for the next 12 months, residents and businesses can have confidence that our plans are realistic, robust and deliverable.”

But Cllr Connett, the Lib Dem’s budget spokesman said: “We know we are not being shown the full detail of the Conservatives budget plans for the coming financial year. We know that we have been denied the promised information about their cuts.

“In May, if we are the majority, we will order a line-by-line review of all the council’s expenditure to cut waste and ensure the money from Teignbridge council tax payers goes on the services they want and need.

“I move the adjournment of this budget meeting so we can receive the promised full information.”

The council’s legal officer said that in her 20 years in local government, this was a scenario never seen before, but that it was legitimate that the adjournment request could be made, if councillors felt that they did need more information before they approve the budget.

Cllr Connett said that the promised list of budget savings had never been given to councillors, but Martin Flitcroft, the Chief Finance Officer for the council, said the criticism was disappointing as he had given a list of savings at February’s executive meeting.

Cllr Connett said: “I have no criticism of the officer but the list of savings is not the same as knowing the specific budget lines that they propose to deliver this budget.”

Cllr Barker said though that no-one has ever gone through detail on a line-by-line basis about ‘how many tins cans will be picked up’, but it does include details of the service budget that questions could have been previously asked of.

Chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee, Cllr Mike Haines said that the common sense approach should have been that that if there were questions after the overview and scrutiny meeting, they should have been asked in the weeks after. He added: “I only see this as headline grabbing and not trying to move forward as an authority.”

A bid to adjourn the meeting was defeated, only for Cllr Gordon Hook to then propose the budget be rejected. He said: “This is a huge empty budget with no detail.”

But Cllr Jeremy Christophers, the Conservative leader of the council, said: “The information in the budget exceeds more than ever been had before and is a remarkable budget as it is balanced and we haven’t cut services even though our £10m grant from the government has gone. Our prospects are doing just fine and long may they continue.”

And Cllr Barker added: “It is incredible that people have concerns about what we are spending but cannot be bothered to put an alternative budget forward.”

Councillors voted by 23 votes to 14 to approve the Conservatives budget.

The budget includes:

– Investing £27.8million towards capital projects across the whole district. This includes town centre improvements, the creation of new green spaces, improvements to existing parks, open spaces and leisure centres, creating employment space, contributions to affordable housing, carbon management and other schemes.

– Continuing Rural Aid funding at £40,000 each year for projects in towns and parishes that improve their communities.

– Increasing Teignbridge’s element of the council tax of a band D property to £170.17 being 3.03% – or £5 extra per year.

– Keeping free Sunday car parking in all Teignbridge-owned car parks with the exception of resort car parks in the summer.

– Freezing or reducing the cost for up to one hour car parking and making small increases to other parking charges.

– Maintaining an infrastructure delivery plan with the investment of £3.5million of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) towards education, cycle paths, an energy company, open spaces and habitat mitigation, and sports and leisure.

– Holding sufficient reserves in case the council needs to call on funds to deal with an emergency.

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