TAMESIDE’S council tax will rise by almost five per cent – and no-one is happy about it.
Not even then ruling Labour group that composed the budget.
However, they insist they had to do it as they try to protect and deliver services, despite criticism of where money is spent.
And they warned they could have raised it by 25 per cent to really make up a financial shortfall caused by Government cuts.
Householders will pay an extra £1.06 per week if they live in a band A property, £1.59 a week if they reside in a band Done – people in Mossley will also have a precept added for its Town Council.
Of the rise, two per cent is an adult social care precept and is ring-fenced, meaning it can only be used for adult social care services.
Tameside Council claims its spending power has been reduced by some 24 per cent since 2010/11 and must find £27.2 million to balance the books, meaning the rise, cuts in services and increased fees for use of its facilities.
A further £20 million of budget reductions and efficiencies for the forthcoming financial year have also been identified.
And Cllr Jacqueline North, executive cabinet member with responsibility for finance, admitted she does not like putting the plan forward – yet was in no doubt where the blame for it lies.
She said: “No councillor in the land can ever be happy with the prospect of raising taxes on residents in the midst of a cost of living crisis.
“But if we wish to continue protecting and delivering the services that we are legally obliged to provide, including care for children and adults, waste collection and road maintenance, then we are truly left with no choice.
“The government is relying on councils to make this choice. Again the government is choosing to place the burden on the backs of Tameside’s residents.
“Local authorities across the country, including those in Greater Manchester, are grappling with the same impossible choices and reaching the same conclusions.”
“The alternative that we have lived with for over a decade of forcing councils to pass the financial burden onto local taxpayers is as unjust as it is unsustainable going forward,
“Despite the difficulties we face I am confident that the budget presented here will put us on a firm and sustainable footing moving forwards.”
In a later statement, she added: “We are very worried about what an increase in council tax means to people but after taking into account money generated though additional income, we still have to find around £25 million this coming year to fill the £40 million gap. Otherwise, our budget would be unlawful.
“Government gives us too little and expects us to somehow find a way, with a clear message that raising council tax to a new maximum is what is expected otherwise they will cut our funding further.
“Although only 20 per cent of the £25 million will be raised by council tax increases, this is money that will go straight back into protecting and preserving vital services – especially those that support our most vulnerable residents – and providing a real living wage for our carers.”
Not every councillor was behind the budget and Conservative councillor Liam Billington – dubbed the ‘Tameside Trump’ in a verbal exchange – moved an amendment.
He wanted the growth department’s budget reverted to the levels in 2017, the public health department abolished with money being diverted elsewhere and highlighted the amount of consultancy firms being paid to carry out reports.
He said: “Another year, and another tax rise with no progress in improving the lives of our residents – it truly feels like we’ve been stuck in Groundhog Day for the past 45 years that Labour have run this council.
“Another area that the Conservative group would seek to address in public health – it simply isn’t working.
“Now that Covid is out of the public’s mind, they have reverted back to form with the finger-wagging, telling people what they can eat, drink and do in the privacy of their bedroom.
“People don’t want to be lectured into what they can do and if their advice was so good, councillors would be following suit and we’d all look like Twiggy.”
The sole Green Party member, Cllr Lee Huntbach, also said he had suggested ways of saving money but they, like many of his questions, fell on deaf ears.
He said: “I believe my suggestions could have saved the council many thousands of pounds in costs of resources – chemicals, machinery, equipment and wages for seasonal staff.
“Surely if cuts to services have to be considered, then removing weeds, which benefit pollinators and biodiversity generally, would be one of the more acceptable, even appreciated, cuts that could be made.
“Transforming grass verges to wildflower meadows could perhaps justify dipping into the reserves for the initial work.
“The subsequent savings on labour could go back into the reserves. It’s two cuts a year for wildflower verges versus 14 for lawns.
“Despite the sometimes-extensive research I have put into the those questions I have submitted to this Labour council, each and every one has been summarily dismissed.
“It’s almost as if the ruling Labour council would rather disregard any potential advantage than give credit to an opposition member.”
The budget was voted through by majority, with Cllr Huntbach and the Conservatives voting against.