Liberal Democrat Councillors in Bath and North East Somerset have been criticised for tabling proposals that would leave a £3.5 million black-hole in the Council’s financial plan. Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Paul Crossley made the proposals at a Council Overview and Scrutiny panel meeting in advance of the Cabinet Budget meeting this week.
Conservatives have condemned the Liberal Democrat proposals as “reckless short-termism drawn from the Gordon Brown school of economics and finance”.
The £3.5 million unfunded black-hole which would result from the Liberal Democrat proposals would mean a 6.25% Council Tax rise next year if the cuts to services that would have to be identified cannot be found.
Cllr Crossley also surprised panel members at the meeting by stating that no funds should be set aside to protect B&NES tax-payers from the looming pensions time-bomb. Ignoring the problem and not making prudent plans now could result in £6 million needing to be found at the next review in 2011, equivalent to an extra 8.25% on Council Tax.
Cllr Malcolm Hanney (Con, Chew Valley North), the Cabinet Member in charge of the Council’s budget said:
“During these uncertain times, the residents of Bath and North East Somerset are calling for sensible, effective measures which address the recession and allow for continued investment in vital Council services. The Conservatives are proposing to live within our means; the Liberal Democrats are proposing to spend beyond them.
“The Liberal Democrats’ spend now-tax later proposals would leave a £3.5million black-hole in the following two years’ budgets and would mean going back to the days of 6% Council Tax rises. Burying our heads in the sand and not making prudent plans for the future cannot be the right thing to do.”
The Conservatives have added that while school transport is a very important issue, the actual total cost of funding free school transport across the whole of B&NES, beyond current provision, would be £9.23 million. This means the proposals to spend the equivalent of 12.8% on Council Tax to subsidise a service which is within central government’s responsibility is simply unaffordable. With the Liberal Democrats proposing to set aside £1.5million this year and only £500,000 in each of the next four years, questions have been raised about where the additional funds will come from, or what areas and which children would not get the free transport.