Blackpool Council has come in for a storm of criticism over its budget plans for the coming year.
In a bid to make savings in the wake of the Government’s severe ongoing grant cuts to local authorities, council leader Simon Blackburn outlined measures to be taken to save £18.7m.
It includes raising council tax by 3.99 per cent, making 80 people redundant with another 70 contracts to end, introducing a £1 charge for pensioners on trams and increasing charges for council services.
Today, the leader of the Conservative opposition on the council, Coun Tony Williams said the near four per cent rise in tax was “scandalous” and he attacked the councils plan to borrow £17.5m to build a hotel on the Wilkinson’s site at Talbot Gateway.
He said instead the council should scrap the free school breakfast scheme, work with nearby councils and service providers to cut back office spending, cut spending on consultants and agency staff and find other ways to raise funds.
He said: “I am sadly disappointed at this budget and its proposals in fact it looks like it’s been put together on the back of an envelope.
“It’s clear that this council has no real vision, imagination or flair in regards to creative economic opportunities.
“The council is to increase our borrowing to almost £200m stating that they are taking advantage of low borrowing rates. Money won’t always be this cheap and further down the line this may hurt future budgets. Borrowing £17.5m to build and invest into a hotel when the council has a track record of poor management in commercial ventures is just plain crazy.
“I predict this project will, in fact, lose money year on year and fail to meet the loan re-payments. If the council think this new hotel is such a good idea, then why aren’t private investors interested?
“There are at least three new hotels being developed in Blackpool and I personally have recently introduced investors to the council who want to develop a four star hotel next to the Winter Gardens, which makes a lot more sense.
“The council’s plan for income generation seems to be wholly dependent on charging for more on street parking or creating more car parks and also to hit all residents and businesses in Blackpool by increasing fees and charges.
“The final insult is the scandalous council tax rise of four per cent.
“This rise comes from a council which has the worst record in the UK for collecting council tax and it will only mean that people living on lower incomes will be the hardest hit.
“Their ability to continue to overspend hundreds of thousands of pounds on developments such as the Syndicate and of course the still empty offices and shops at Bickerstaff House as well as consultants fees on vague initiatives that may never happen, has contributed to the loss of hundreds of jobs and the cost of their economic incompetence has now fallen heavily on the people of this town who will now face one of the highest council tax increases of 3.99% in the UK
“Other authorities such as Wolverhampton, Bournemouth, Calderdale and our two neighbours Fylde and Wyre are all doing a much better job than our own council and I believe we need major changes to both our administration and the people who were elected to serve this town.”
Instead he said a Conservative administration would freeze council tax, work closer with neighbouring authorities and private sector, bring in a pay and display tram initiative from the north of Blackpool to cut congestion and boost revenue, introduce more charge for services in certain services.
He added that they would also restructure social services to work closer at ground level with schools and the community on a family focussed initiative to reduce the number of looked after children.
He said: “Our inability to get to the root causes of family issues has resulted in Blackpool having the highest number of looked-after children in the whole of the UK.
“It hurts to think of all those children who have experienced such a life changing trauma at very young ages, but the financial cost of our failure to intervene early enough is more than £17m per year.”
But Coun Blackburn hit back saying: “Councillor Williams’ response is lazy, long-winded and incoherent – and as usual, misses the point entirely.
“Investment in capital schemes create both jobs and income.
“Interestingly for someone claiming that others lack vision he has opposed just about every development in Blackpool over the past couple of years.”
He said Mr Williams had opposed extending the Winter Gardens , opposed demolishing and re-developing the “site of a burnt-out, asbestos-ridden hotel in South Shore because it was the wrong end of town”; had opposed the deal to move the police station off the central car park site, freeing the area up for the development and he opposed the tram extension despite saying he wanted it in his manifesto.
He added: “Investment in the breakfast scheme has also created jobs, and is tackling systemic challenges around childhood obesity and healthy eating.
“The Conservative Government explicitly increased the council tax cap to 3.99 per cent to help councils raise much needed funds for social care. If we didn’t utilise that funding, there would be even more cuts to vulnerable adults.”
How you reacted to the budget statement:
“And where do you think people have the money to pay for this council tax increase, zero hour contracts, seasonal positions and minimum wage are the effects of this government as well, people are struggling to feed families now, paying their council tax won’t be a priority if there’s no food on the table.”
“Someone bring in a public sector salary cap of £50k please, then all these jobs can be saved.”
“Get rid of the mayor for a start and stop building things we don’t need. The streets on the estates are full of weeds, cracks, litter and dog poop and still nothing done to help the residents.”
“So we pay more council tax for less service and also pay for the green bins as an extra? What a farce.”
“We’re all skint council tax is going up and yet they gonna borrow £17.5 million for a hotel if we don’t have the money and have to borrow it, why build it?”
“Need to re think your plans I think, people are struggling enough as it is.”
“Would be nice if our wages inflated at the same rate as council tax. it’s £160 a month where I am as it is.”
“It’s still one of the cheaper places for council tax though. Now I’ve moved I pay almost double what I used to pay in Blackpool.”
“We are the ones losing out for their mistakes, people don’t have enough money as it is. I work and to be honest I will be better off on the dole, come on council think of the people on minimum wage at least we work for our money.”
“Welcome to Theresa Mayhems Britain ... there’s no plan, no vision and no hope!”
“There are always choices to be made on how to spend taxpayers money, some that can be supported and others that are questionable at best. But the fact is, it’s Conservative Government cuts that are forcing councils of all political colours to slash services and increase taxes.”
“Stop the free breakfast scheme, it is doing more harm than good.
“Save the money.
“Stop wasting money on ludicrous ideas.”