It includes a 3.33% hike in council tax
Conservatives and the sole Liberal Democrat and Green party councillors all hit out at the proposed budget that Cllr Pete Edwards submitted for approval at last night’s full council meeting, saying that they could not vote in favour of it and couldn’t understand why anyone would.
The budget, which includes a 3.33 per cent hike in council tax, was though backed by the ruling Labour group who said ‘at least we have proposed a budget’.
Cllr Edwards, who at the start of the meeting announced it would be his last as leader of the council, said that the 10 years he has been in power he has been subject to austerity the whole time and told Central Government to ‘get real’ with the cuts they have put councils through.
He said: “Exeter has had the biggest cut of any council in Devon, and this year, to balance the budget, we had to find £2.2m of cuts and additional income, and next year, another £2.4m.”
Cllr Edwards said the council’s spending on culture and events has been protected, they have invested heavily in communities, and pointed to his record of delivering huge achievements for the city.
He said: “Our employment rate is 7th highest in the country, and we have the 3rd lowest claimant count in the country. Exeter is the only city in the country where shops haven’t closed, over the last decade we have had the largest drop in co2, emissions, and footfall in the city centre has only dropped by one per cent.
“We have taken difficult and strategic decisions to shape the future of the city. The budget that I am proposing aims to be balanced, and protect and maintain services that the citizens of Exeter need the most.”
His budget would see the Band D council tax rise by £5 a year to £155.05.
But opposition councillors stood up and criticised the budget, with Cllr Chris Musgrave saying: “It is irresponsible to support this and I am surprised that you can. If you want to support the many, not the few, object to this.”
And Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, leader of the Conservative group, said that the council had made a choice where to spend its money – and had chosen the St Sidwell’s Point leisure centre.
He said: “I do agree that national government has not been kind to local government, but the council has choices as to how to spend the money and this council has chosen to spend it on St Sidwell’s Point. They are now running out of money and to pay for this and cuts will have to be made. If the council wishes to save money and support services, it has a choice to be made. But instead looking at parks, toilets, and selling of assets, there was another clear choice that could be made.”
But Cllr Greg Sheldon said that the ship on St Sidwell’s Point has sailed as given that contracts have been signed, even if the council didn’t build it, they would still have to pay for it, and said that they weren’t selling assets to fund the budget as it would be illegal to do that.
He added: “We are having to make millions of cuts year after year, and you may say you don’t like it, but what will you cut instead? I commend the budget in the absence of any viable alternative as no other budget has been proposed. I don’t agree with all the cuts but we have to make them.”
Cllr Phil Bialyk added: “We will be investing in activities to make Exeter the most active city and place in England,” before slamming the opposition for ‘peddling nonsense’ over St Sidwell’s Point. He said: “The business case for it says that we will be able to repay the loan so stop peddling the nonsense that we will have to reduce services and cut staff to pay for it, as that is just wrong.
“St Sidwell’s Point will happen and it will be one of the best facilities in the country and we should celebrate it. So please stop moaning, and if you don’t like, then at least come up with an alternative.”
Cllr Emma Morse said: “The opposition have showed their lack of imagination by not even submitting an alternative,” while Cllr Steve Warwick said to the other side of the chamber: “Don’t come here and say you cannot believe anyone would support this when you don’t even have one yourself – that is just lazy.”
Cllr Rachel Sutton added: “The council is creating jobs, building good quality homes, attracting businesses. We are investing in things that we want to do, not just what we have to do. You are being offered a balanced budget to vote for tonight, but where is your alternative. What do you want to do and not do and how do you propose to pay for it? We have no idea as you’ve submitted nothing. You are just lazy.”
Summing up, Cllr Edwards said: “When we were in opposition we submitted a budget, so I very disappointed that the three opposition parties can’t come up with some alternatives. This is a well balanced budget and I ask you all to vote for it.”
Councillors voted by 24 votes to two, with seven abstentions, to approve the budget, which sees the band D council tax for 2019/20 be £155.05, an increase by £5 or 3.33 per cent.