ASHFIELD: Heated debate ends in tax rise and service cuts

Ashfield District Council offices.
Ashfield District Council offices.

Ashfield District Council approved its budget for the coming financial year 2014/15, which will see cuts in services and a rise in council tax.

Councillors met on Monday to rubber stamp their budget which includes savings of £1.1 million and a 1.94 per cent increase in council tax.

During the heated meeting, opposition councillors presented amendments in the form of their own alternative budget which was rejected.

Presenting the budget plans, Coun David Shaw, portfolio for finance, said the council had been uneasy about cutting services and jobs, blaming “savage Government cuts” for the decisions.

The council spent £16 million on the people of Ashfield, £10 million of which is allocated by the Government, the rest from council tax and reserves.

The Government had announced a cut in the Revenue Support grant of 33 per cent, some £4.7 million the authority would have to find over the next five years.

He said: “At one point last year the cuts would have meant making savings of £700,000. Overnight it went back to the drawing board, with additional cuts on top of that meaning we had to make savings of £1.1 million.”

The budget was arrived after 1,000 residents took part in a consultation in November and December.

He said there would be further consultations, adding: “The likelehood of cutting precious services being on the agenda is not scaremongering. Future job losses are more likely to be inevitable.”

Coun Shaw said 58 per cent of people polled had said they would accept a two per cent rise in Council tax.

Coun Chris Baron said: “The increase for Band D is 7p per week and for Band B it’s 5p per week. That is ensuring we still deliver as many front-line services as we can, eliminating the need for compulsory redundancy and providing front-line services while still looking to promote business, housing and growth within Ashfield.”

During the fired up debate, Liberal Democrat Jason Zadrozny said the council was “locked” onto what the Government was doing to the council, but had failed to see opportunities given to the council.

He said: “They haven’t told the people of Ashfield that if they didn’t put council tax up, the Government were offering them a grant of two-thirds of what it was they had put council tax up by.”

“Instead of taking money from the Government they would rather take it from the tax payers in our district. It is abhorrent to me.”

“They talk about prudence- they should be a lot more honest if they hadn’t just refurbished the leader’s office, resurfaced the council car park and bought a plasma screen TV.

He said the council had taken “easy decisions” to cut funding to community groups, close leisure centres and cut wardens.

Referring to the decision to end funding to parish councils, he added: “Worst of all is the evil decision to make an 100 per cent cut to places like Selston where Labour don’t elect anybody.”

Independent councillor Gail Turner, presented the alternative budget.

It contained no increase in council tax, would provide free parking throughout Ashfield, four more CPOs and three more green space operatives.

She said: “Ashfield District Council should not be self-serving but Labour are keeping it so, for example keeping open a staff canteen that costs the taxpayer £80,000 a year.

“Because we propose no increase in Council Tax we will take advantage of the Government’s offer of an increase of one per cent free of charge.

“The independents have seen no real plans from Labour for the future of Edgewood Leisure Centre whereas Coun Buttery’s is full of ideas for Huthwaite. The proposal is that Edgewood be closed saving £53,000 for the authority.

She added: “Labour’s budget singles out the parished areas as the cash cows for the rest of Ashfield. Labour’s proposal to cut the parish grants takes away their share of the Council Tax that those people pay into this authority.”

Responding to the alternative budget, Coun Chris Baron accused the opposition of “cherry picking”.

He said: “When we went out to consultation, 62 per cent of people said we should cut funding to parish councils.

“Selston and rural areas already get free parking.

“By cutting three directors and other public sector posts, the cost of redundancies would be double any savings made.”

“If they think they can get £72,000 sponsorship for the Ashfield and raising £46,000 by sponsoring flower beds, they are living in a dream world.”

“They will close Edgewood Leisure Centre but not Huthwaite. There is potential for these not to be closed anyway.

He added: “One does question whether this is a realistic budget. If everyone on the council had agreed to this what kind of state would Ashfield be in?”