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'Money could buy you love'

Tuesday, 27 February 2024 10:12

By Guy Henderson, local democracy reporter

Torbay town hall (courtesy: Ed Oldfield/LDRS)

Torbay Tories accused of crowd-pleasing

Torbay Council’s ruling Conservative group has been accused of trying to ‘buy love’ with a crowd-pleasing new budget.

Households in the bay will pay a fraction less than the maximum permitted increase in their council tax, and Torbay’s bills remain among the lowest in the westcountry.

But one maverick councillor told the Tory leadership it was trying too hard to win over local voters.

Cllr Katya Maddison (Shiphay) was one of two Conservative councillors to jump ship and start the new Prosper Torbay group last year, shifting the balance of the authority.

She said the council’s budget should have done more to support local businesses.

And, she added: “By setting the council tax rise a fraction below the government cap it will cost the council a great deal of money for the sake of saving local households 6p a week.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Steve Darling (Barton with Watcombe) praised the ‘investing’ budget, but said the millions of pounds coming from the government for town centres regeneration were just a fraction of what the bay had lost.

He said: “Under austerity we have lost more than £750 million that we would have received from central government. There are bags of cash heading our way, but they are just crumbs off the table.”

Independent group leader Darren Cowell (Shiphay) added: “This budget is set against the backdrop of a desperately low level of funding from central government for local services.

“I would say that £750 million is closer to £1 billion.”

Not one councillor voted against the budget or the council tax rise, however, although many opposition members abstained rather than vote with the Conservatives.

Council leader David Thomas (Con, Preston) explained that bills would rise by 4.75 per cent in the bay, rather than the 4.99 maximum allowed by the government.

“This is about putting down some firm foundations for the next three years,” he said. “We know there are some bumps in the road coming, but we are ready for them.

“This is about putting building blocks in place to give us some certainty about the difficulties that we know we’ve got coming over the hill.”

Deputy leader Chris Lewis (Con, Preston) highlighted the capital section of the budget, dealing with ‘big ticket’ projects paid for by the government’s regeneration funding.

He added: “These are exciting times for Torbay. If someone comes to Torbay in five years time they would probably get lost, because there will be so much building going on.

“People will see a complete change in Torbay, and a change for the better.”

Two amendments from the Lib Dems and Prosper Torbay, dealing with funding for children’s services and a reserve for business development, were accepted by the Conservatives and included in the budget.

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