Council budget set amid growing pressures from years of austerity cuts

Barnsley Council has agreed to increase its Council Tax bills by 4.49 per cent next year as the authority struggles with austerity cuts and the need to care for an ageing population.

Friday, 1st March 2019, 7:19 am
Updated Friday, 1st March 2019, 7:22 am
Barnsley Town Hall
Barnsley Town Hall

The decision was made amid a warning of financial uncertainty in the years ahead – and a political confrontation between several Labour councillors and the authority’s only Lib Dem member, Coun Hannah Kitching, who suggested several small-scale budget changes to help communities.

An increase of around three per cent is to cover the core public services the council provides, but the total has been hiked to 4.49 per cent with an additional charge to cover adult social care, which means looking after the elderly.

That is an increased burden for the council because 19 per cent of the population is now aged over 65, a higher proportion than the regional or national figure and it inevitably means an increased demand on care services.

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Cabinet member Coun Alan Gardiner told a meeting of the full council they had now reached a “tipping point” and would “make every effort to lobby the Government to make sure we, and authorities like us, get our fair share of funding.

“This is absolutely essential to ensure we can maintain services,” he said.

Proposed changes to funding rules in future could leave authorities like Barnsley, already identified by a ‘think tank’ as the worst affected in the country by austerity cuts, at a further disadvantage in the future, the meeting heard.

Council leader Sir Steve Houghton said: “To be in this position, given what Barnsley has had to go through, is a remarkable achievement.

“The real test for members is taking tough decisions. The reality is you have to face up to the hard budget facts,” he said.

Coun Kitching had accused the council of failing to listen to residents and suggested three measures, which would have seen six councillors stripped of additional allowances of around £3,000 a year each, with the money used to re-instate the printed calendars for bin collections which were abandoned because of austerity.

She also advocated scrapping the traffic gyratory scheme at Penny Pie Park in Dodworth Road and using the £2.1m the council had earmarked for the scheme on improving parks and children’s playgrounds across the borough instead.

Her third suggestion was to give the borough’s Area Councils, which work to improve neighbourhoods around the town, an extra £28,000 a year to pay for small scale traffic schemes which the council can no longer afford from central funds. Money for that would come from ending the arrangement where the council pays for full time union officials to represent the workforce.

Sir Steve dismissed all three ideas, saying the traffic gyratory was needed with no alternative plans suggested and to scrap it would mean the loss of £2m coming in from outside the council to help pay for the work.

The union officials helped the council save money, be streamlining workforce negotiations, he said, and council members’ allowances were “fair and reasonable”, decided by an outside body.

“What we don’t want is for Barnsley Council to become the destination for retired people and those with businesses, who can afford to be on the council,” he said.

If the money from their allowances was available, it would not be used on bin calendars, he said: “We have had to do worse than that. There are more important things that would deserve money from the council,” he said.

Conservative Coun John Wilson told the meeting confusion over bin collections was “not a problem and grossly inflated”.