Budget proposals ‘for the many not the few’ have been approved by Lancaster city councillors.
The plans put forward by the Labour group which runs Lancaster City Council include tackling food and fuel poverty, combating anti-social behaviour and investment in CCTV.
The 2019/20 revenue budget, which was approved by 31 votes to 13, with eight abstentions, also includes support for businesses and the local economy, with a freeze on car park charges and a bid to be lodged for extremely fast full-fibre broadband, offering speeds of a gigabit per second.
Only the Conservatives voted outright to oppose the proposals. While they did not present alternative costed plans, Conservative councillors outlined a vision which Labour said would ‘damage people’s lives’, which included investigating privatisation of environmental services like bin collection, selling off council houses to a private company and slashing the number of council staff.
Further Government funding cuts mean the amount the city council receives from Government will have fallen from £15.1m in 2010/11, the year the Conservatives came to power, to just £5.8m for 2019/20.
There is a 2.99 per cent rise in the city council’s share of council tax, representing a £6.59 annual increase in the amount levied by the city council for a typical Band D home. But the total increase in bills will be larger owing mainly to a 3.99 per cent rise approved separately by the Conservative controlled Lancashire County Council, which puts an extra £51.67 onto a typical Band D bill.
Under Labour’s budget the city council will continue to offer 100 per cent support with council tax to the lowest income families, as agreed at an earlier meeting in December, despite opposition from most Conservative councillors.
The budget includes a new one-year post for a public health project coordinator charged with tackling food and fuel poverty, health inequalities and social isolation, coordinating support from communities and bidding for external funding.
Funding is earmarked to continue the ‘smart’ CCTV system introduced last year following a successful pilot during which it has helped police with 18 serious investigations. The council plans to build on its success by using it further to help with fly-tipping investigations and is also looking to use the cameras to assist with the work of its anti-social behaviour team. Labour has budgeted £53,200 for the team to continue after a successful trial which has seen staff tackle community concerns including unruly youth behaviour.
A review of grass-cutting will take place with a view to freeing up staff to work on other issues like weeding and removing graffiti, while £75,000 has been set aside for park improvement projects. The mini-zoo at Williamson Park will be further developed with the introduction of racoons, skunk and porcupines, interactive displays, a wildlife pond and a nature trail, which should boost income.
There is £145,000 for economic growth initiatives including business and skills support, marketing the area following the launch of the ‘Lancaster Story’ and to support local wealth building to ensure spending stays in the district, benefiting the local economy. There will be a continued focus on attracting investment to the district, like the Eden Project, encouraging business growth and start-ups, creating and safeguarding jobs, and boosting visitor numbers.
A funding gap caused by Government cuts will be met through a mixture of savings and efficiencies, including a reduction in planned property maintenance, staff restructures, increased income – for example, from certain types of planning fees.
Council and Labour group leader, Cllr Eileen Blamire, said: “These ambitious plans make our streets cleaner, safer and greener, help the most vulnerable, boost jobs and the local economy, and invest in leisure and culture to ensure our district is an attractive place for residents and visitors alike.
“This is a budget with a heart, for the many, not the few – whether you’re a single parent struggling to make ends meet or someone starting up your own business, it has something for everyone.
“We have protected frontline services despite continued Government cuts but it’s clear the Conservatives would instead jeopardise the quality of vital public services, with jobs lost, pay cut and leisure and cultural facilities under threat. It’s an agenda which would damage people’s lives and take us back to the ‘Dark Ages’.”