A council tax rise for Arun residents will protect frontline services amid significant reductions in local government funding.
That was the claim from the Conservatives last night, as a 2.98 per cent rise in the district council’s portion of council tax was agreed (Wednesday, February 23).
Arun’s annual budget – to come into effect in April – received support from opposition party UKIP and the Independent group.
But the Liberal Democrats abstained, posing two amendments which were overwhelmingly defeated after intense political debate.
Arun leader Gill Brown said savings through the 2020 Vision project had helped set a budget which included construction of a new £15million leisure centre for Littlehampton.
She said a ‘modest’ rise in council tax would help protect services, despite an ‘unprecedented’ reduction in government funding.
“We are in the enviable position of constructing a new leisure centre whilst maintaining sufficient balances to enable us to address the reductions in government funding we are facing in the future,” she said.
“We are well aware there will be tough years ahead but we have already started to plan for this through our 2020 Vision work and I am sure we will rise to the challenge and make further reductions to our budget with minimal effect on frontline services.”
The Lib Dems called for a £450,000 contingency to raise salaries for council staff in line with future increases for the chief executive.
It followed their criticism last month of the wage increase for Nigel Lynn, which will see him earn more than £117,000.
But the Tories dismissed the idea, describing it as ‘obtuse’, ‘ridiculous’ and ‘financially illiterate’.
Deputy leader Dudley Wensley said: “How on earth will we finance this? What frontline service are we going to cut to finance this crackpot idea?”
Lib Dem leader Francis Oppler said he would have dipped into reserves and kept rises for the chief executive in line with other staff.
Addressing the wider budget, he warned: “The reality is more staff will be lost, services cut and others outsourced, while the Conservative leadership ignores the huge way we have wasted well in excess of £1million on the local plan shambles, £75,000 on planning appeals and £117,000 on cabinet member (remuneration) in 2015/16.”
The Lib Dems also called for £500,000 to be invested in two family hostels to address homelessness.
The amendment was lost, with cabinet member for housing Trevor Bence revealing he would shortly present a full business plan to tackle the problem.
UKIP supported the budget, only raising concern over the number of empty shops across the district.
Leader Ann Rapnik congratulated the council for presenting a budget with a deficit of just £14,000.
She said: “You will be very, very pleased that we do not present any amendments.”
Independent Jim Brooks, while supporting the budget, said previous years of freezing council tax was ‘short-sighted’.
He queried whether the number of councillors could be reduced to save money.
The budget was passed with 42 in favour. The four Lib Dems abstained.