‘Amnesia’ over spending spree as council plans tax hike

Councillor Neil Blake
Councillor Neil Blake

Council chiefs have been slammed for splashing public money on expensive projects and then demanding more taxpayers’ money to balance the books.

A 2% council tax increase for 2013/14 was has been agreed by Aylesbury Vale District Council cabinet members to cover losses from Government cuts, rejecting a 1% grant offer to freeze rates. Members say the increase will generate £164,100 annually to protect services, much more than a freeze grant would have.

But in recent years the council has spent £9.5 million on its lavish new offices and £47 million on the over-budget Waterside Theatre, despite the country being in recession.

Now the Department for Communities and Local Government has announced its core grant funding will be cut by 9.4% in 2013/14.

Councillor Neil Blake, cabinet member for resources, says this cut is worse than expected, making the tax hike even more important. But Lib Dem group leader, Councillor Steven Lambert, said he has no sympathy with the council after so much was spent on big projects.

Mr Lambert said: “We had a surplus from the sale of council housing to the housing trust.

“All that money was sitting there and the Tories went on a massive spending spree. Now we have gone from having no debt and a massive surplus to being millions in the red.”

Mr Blake said the capital and revenue budgets are separate areas of funding, but Mr Lambert said money had been moved from the revenue budget to fund capital projects.

He said: “We tried to stop them but it didn’t work.

“They’re having amnesia about the financial situation.”

The council tax increase would equate to an extra £2.62 a year on a Band D property.

Despite the grant cuts, the Government has said the council’s spending power will increase by 3%, which Councillor Phil Yerby, Conservative, argued should mean council tax does not need to go up.

But Mr Blake said it was not clear how the 3% figure had been calculated and that the core funding cut was much more significant.