Maximum council tax rise ‘regretfully’ agreed in Barnsley as authority faces ‘worst cuts in country bar Liverpool’

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Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council has ‘regretfully’ agreed a five per cent council tax increase during its annual budget meeting today (February 29).

The increase, equivalent to an extra £85.11 for a band D property per year, is needed to fund a growing demand for services against a backdrop of inflation.

The rise is made up of a 2.99 per cent hike in basic council tax and an additional two per cent earmarked for adult social care.

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BMBC expects to spend an extra £35 million on day-to-day running costs next year, and even with additional government funding, it cannot meet the costs of ‘increased demand’.

Barnsley Town HallBarnsley Town Hall
Barnsley Town Hall

A five-year plan has been drawn up to dispose of land and assets, which could raise £7m. The council’s portfolio of land such as the Glass Works, town centre and industrial estates will also be assessed for occupancy levels and running costs.

A further £2.6m of savings will be made in children’s services, with plans to develop a new children’s home and reduce placements with ‘expensive’ external foster agencies. BMBC also plans to reduce residential care placements through reviews and step downs.

BMBC hopes to raise a further £10,000 by enforcing fines for dog fouling and littering.

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Fees such as those for market stalls, pest control services, dog wardens, and marriage ceremonies will also increase.

The government said it is giving £64.7 billion to local government in the next financial year, an above-inflation rise of 7.5 per cent on the previous year.

However, councillor Robert Frost, cabinet member for core services, told today’s meeting that the BMBC’s core spending power has reduced by 27 per cent since 2020, which he slammed as ‘unsustainable’.

He added that “regretfully and for the first time in a long time”, the council proposed to hike council tax by 4.99 per cent – the maximum allowed by the government without a referendum.

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Councillor James Higginbottom said that the council balancing the book has been ‘nothing short of a miracle’, after a ‘triple threat’ of austerity, demand and inflation has driven the ‘current crisis in local government finance’

Council leader Sir Steve Houghton added that Barnsley has had to “rebuild a whole community, a whole economy, a whole society again, and that costs money and time”.

“For us to be able to rebuild this borough and still maintain services against a background of what’s happened to us, and the worst cuts of any council in the country bar Liverpool is a unique and incredible achievement,” he added.

Councillor Roy Bowser added that the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the miners strike is coming up, and warned that “if nothing changes, councils face a £4bn funding gap over the next two years”.

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“Communities collapsed. In this town, there began a long process of disconnection and despair…followed [by] misery, health problems and unemployment, the huge chasms being filled by drugs, antisocial behaviour and crime,” he added.

The Liberal Democrats submitted a budget amendment, which proposed safer walking routes, expanding active travel hubs, and maximum council tax discounts to the lowest income households in the borough.

The amendment was voted down, with councillor councillor Kevin Osborne adding: “They’ve come up with three fag packet amendments that are certainly commendable, but they probably could have been sent to the relevant cabinet spokesperson by email.”