Tories fend off opposition as council budget approved

Cllr Steve Count

Cllr Count said the Conservatives has not chosen to increase council tax by the maximum allowed by government rules – 4.99 per cent. - Credit: John Elworthy

Tory controlled Cambridgeshire County Council pledged to spend more on footpaths and roads as they approved the annual budget in the face of Labour and Lib Dem opposition. 

Council leader Steve Count, said the budget comes to around £660.3 million for 2021/22. 

That amounts to an increase of around £47.3 million – or 7.7 per cent – compared with last year’s budget. 

The county council’s share of council tax will rise by 2.99 per cent. 

The Conservative promised an additional £29 million to be spent mostly on footpaths, verges and gulleys and roads over the next five years. 

That includes a £7 million for Shelfords Road, Willingham, one of the key routes to cross over the River Ouse, and a commuter road between the Fens and the A14 and Cambridge.  

The council said “historic construction destabilised by poor ground conditions make it a prime candidate for a full reconstruction”.  

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Cllr Count said the Conservatives has not chosen to increase council tax by the maximum allowed by government rules – 4.99 per cent. 

This, he said, was because the “likely lasting damage done by the pandemic means we need protect our residents from the burden of extra taxation as much as is possible”. 

Labour group leader Elisa Meschini, questioned the Conservatives over their extra funding commitments for footpaths and highways, saying extra funding for those purposes is expected from the government imminently. 

Cllr Count responded: “We don’t know what is coming in. I’m expecting anywhere between six or 10 million pounds to come in, and that can be used to reduce capital borrowing”. 

Lib Dem leader Lucy Nethsingha criticised the Conservatives for only releasing their final budget plans a few days before the meeting. 

She said the “disingenuous nature of this budget process means that the real discussion about priorities has hardly happened in public at all”.  

She argued that had Cambridgeshire’s Conservatives made the choices made by their Conservative colleagues in Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire and the majority of county councils around the country “we in at this council would have £15 million more in revenue every year”. 

She said that “would mean that we were not scrabbling around to find funding for routine cleaning of drains and gulleys – they would have been cleared, and hundreds of people would not have had their homes flooded this winter”. 

She clarified after the meeting that the £15 million figure used refers to how much more the county council would have received in council tax over the past year had it raised council tax by the maximum allowed each year since 2013. 

The Liberal Democrats said their budget amendment would increase council tax 3.49 per cent this year, invest more money in highways than the Conservatives over the next two years, while also increasing investment to tackle climate change and offer more support for communities impacted by the pandemic. 

Cllr Meschini, criticised the spending priorities of both the other two main parties, arguing they are not focused enough on support communities and the most vulnerable. 

She said the Labour Party’s budget amendment would increase council tax three per cent, allocate funding to make the council an accredited “real living wage” employer, while also introducing a Covid-19 community recovery fund. 

Both the Liberal Democrat and Labour budget amendments were voted down along party lines.  

And both the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups voted against the Conservative amendments and budget. 

Cllr Count said the council’s spending is due to rise by 6.9 per cent next year even without the extra funds for highways and footpaths. 

He said the past year had been unlike any other in the council’s history, and that the council ended up spending around £70 million more than it budgeted, mostly financed by extra support from the government. 

The Conservatives said they raised council tax by 2.99 per cent this year as a “last resort”. 

Following the increase in council tax, from April the new annual costs will be: 

Band A: £933.18 

Band B: £1,088.71 

Band C: £1,244.24 

Band D: £1,399.77 

Band E: £1,710.83 

Band F: £2,021.89 

Band G: £2,332.95 

Band H: £2,799.54