Friday, 6 February 2009

Sefton Budget

In a very balanced posting my colleague David Tattersal explains the Sefton budget :


A council tax increase of 2.16 per cent for the services for which Sefton is responsible - the lowest rise in the history of the borough - has been put forward by the Liberal Democrat group.

In a surprise move,the Conservatives declined to put their financial proposals on the table at the ruling Cabinet meeting on 5 February when all three parties were expected to present their budget plans in line with the council's budget-setting timetable. In view of this Tory decision, the Labour party then decided not to disclose their council tax proposals.

In recent years, all parties have come together and produced a joint, agreed financial budget for the following 12 months. But, in spite of the Lib-Dems best efforts, the other two parties have chosen to go their separate ways this time.

Other organisations,such as police, fire, bus and rail (Merseytravel),and waste disposal, set their own additional charges (called either levies or precepts) which will have to be added to the final council tax bill. These percentage increases are not yet all known. But the estimate is that they will bring the total council tax rise to around 3 per cent.Sefton is a "shared power" or "balanced" council with no single party having a majority of councillors. This has been the case for well over 20 years. The Liberal Democrats form the largest party and, by convention, therefore take the position of Leader, but this does not mean that they rule-the-roost and control the council

Announcing the lowest-ever council tax rise plan, Councillor Tony Robertson, leader of the council, said that there were two aims:

To keep the council tax as low as possible

To ensure that the council meets the ever rising cost of looking after the elderly and vulnerable in the borough.

He said that savings running into millions of pounds had been made. But there also had to be increased spending on adult social care (£1,750,000 extra), children in care (£750,000 extra, and transport for the elderly and vulnerable (£750,000 extra)

"Council tax is unfair and not based on the ability to pay but we are stuck with it until others realise that we need to find a fairer way to fund local councils," said Tony Robertson, referring to the Conservative and Labour parties continuing support for the tax. The Liberal Democrats continue to run a national campaign to scrap the council tax and replace it with a fair alternative.

"We have looked for savings wherever we can find them and only increased spending in areas where there is a pressing necessity or duty to do so."He added: " Our aim is always to find a consensus view across the political parties on balanced Sefton council. We have submitted our party political budget more in sorrow than in anger as it has not been possible for a consensus to be reached with the budget so far.

"A meeting of minds will be required to enable a final budget to be agreed and we continue to be open to approaches from the Labour and Conservatives to find that end."Sadly, cross-party co-operation was severely damaged last year during the two-month Lab/Con administration when the two parties combined to take more control of Sefton, only to change their minds later.

It is thought that pressure from party headquarters forced this change of heart upon them as, politically, the image of these two parties working hand-in-glove was not greeted with much enthusiasm by their party bosses. Tony Robertson said: " We remain committed to finding common agreement wherever that is possible but where there is genuine disagreement across the parties we should debate the alternatives openly whilst not letting a disagreement over one issue affect our approach to other matters."