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Worcester City Council sets 2014/15 budget - what it means for you
COUNCIL tax rises of nearly two per cent have finally been confirmed for households across Worcester - as well as controversial car parking hikes.
Worcester City Council has set its 2014/15 budget after six hours of tense debate, finally rubber-stamping a £9.9 million spending plan in the face of fierce opposition.
During a highly-charged evening, which finally crawled to a close just before 1am this morning, the Labour leadership rejected Conservative pleas to effectively scrap the budget and create a new one based on freezes in council tax and parking rates.
The confirmed plan, which includes almost £1 million of spending reductions, kicks in from April and will see the average band D council tax rate hit £1,481, the first increase since 2010 and nearly £30 more than now.
Elsewhere, £1.4 million is being pumped into new housing and ideas to boost the economy.
But the spending constraints mean rises in garden waste collections, which are going up £10 to £47, and adult cremations are rising from £610 to £700, although the service on offer is being improved.
During the debate, which ended at the latest hour any city council meeting has ran to this century, the Conservatives put forward a raft of alternative ideas which failed to get acceptance.
It included freezing council tax for another year, no rises in parking charges, hiving off bin collections to a private company or another provider, no cuts to street sweeping or litter picking, and a review of office space.
It also included a radical attempt to hand all back office functions and support services like IT and HR to outside organisations, known as commissioning.
Councillor Simon Geraghty, Tory group leader, said it was the "start of a different vision for Worcester", calling it "the people's vision".
But the Labour leadership rejected them, with leader Councillor Adrian Gregson saying it was "short-sighted, ill thought out and leaves huge gaps in the budget" for future years.
During the debate there were heated and angry exchanges between councillors.
Councillor Andy Roberts, a Tory, said increasing council tax was the actions of a "spiv council" but Councillor Richard Boorn, cabinet member for finance, called it "the biggest load of political drivel" and claimed he'd "lost the plot".
Cllr Geraghty said it was "ridiculous" that his party's budget ideas were voted down but Cllr Gregson his plan would put the authority on "a strong financial footing" in the face of funding cuts.
The budget was approved with backing from the Liberal Democrats, but Green Councillor Neil Laurenson voted against.
Council tax has been frozen for the last three years by the old Tory administration, which accepted a Government cash sweetener worth a one per cent rise in return for keeping it down.
But Labour say that has cost the council £500,000 lost revenue, and kept the baseline rates too low.
The rise, of 1.9 per cent, is the most any council can agree without having to hold a referendum.
It matches decisions from Worcestershire County Council, the police and fire service, all of which get slices of the bill, and opted for 1.9 per cent rises too.
Because the city council only gets a tiny portion of bill Tuesday's move added just £3.15 to the overall yearly household bill.
The council has 104 parking tariffs and 25 of them will now change in April.
It includes the scrapping of both the '40p for half-an-hour' rate and the flat £1 price after 7pm.
Some long-stay rates are going from £5 to £6, but at Croft Road all-day parking will cost £6 instead of £3.60.
During the meeting it emerged the Federation of Small Businesses had made a desperate plea for u-turn, backed by dozens of traders, and Irene Deamer, from Support the Arts charity shop in The Shambles turned up to call it "a travesty".
The Tories called it "anti-business" but Labour said most charges will remain the same and there is no evidence cheaper rates worked in pulling people in.
The Tories wanted to look at finding new providers for all support services like IT and HR, as well as bin collections.
It suggested spending £100,000 to develop a small team of staff to implement the plan could save £250,000 a year if departments could be hived out. Cllr Geraghty said: "I want the council to be open and really look at what other providers can offer - people don't give a monkeys who delivers a service."
Labour said it had already considered bin collections but decided against it, and claimed the figures were not credible.
But Cllr Gregson said "Worcester is not for sale", and he would not be forced into handing areas over.
The main reason the budget contains cuts is because of unprecedented reductions in Government funding.
It plunged 15 per cent this year and by 2019, the council expects it to drop further.
A 'transformation plan' is well underway which aims for £4.1 million to be shed off spending by then.
At the moment there is a blackhole of around £1 million which will have to be plugged at some point.
The Tories say it will have to mean most services provided by another organisation by then, but Labour disputes this.
COUNCIL TAX BANDS - WHAT YOU'LL PAY FROM APRIL
Worcester Warndon St Peter's
A £987.86 £1002.91 £998.65
B £1152.511 £1170.07 £1165.09
C £1317.15 £1337.22 £1331.53
D £1481.80 £1504.37 £1497.98
E £1811.09 £1838.68 £1830.86
F £2140.38 £2172.99 £2163.75
G £2469.66 £2507.28 £2496.63
H £2963.59 £3008.74 £2995.95
* Rates in Warndon and St Peter's are higher because parish councils charge extra.
More on the budget will follow in your Worcester News tomorrow.