23rd Sep, 2020

Blame game as report reveals extent of Redditch's financial woes

A POLITICAL bust-up happened on Tuesday night as the road to Redditch being served with a Section 24 notice – an urgent warning from the auditors that it was running out of money – was laid bare.

A report to members of the borough’s all-powerful executive committee meeting on October 29 revealed how the controlling Conservative group had at times gone against the advice of their own financial director by failing to increase charges as planned.

This included cutting the planned increase in council tax by 0.7 per cent, costing £50,000 a year and cutting cremation fees by 4.8 per cent below the initially approved amount, costing £40,000 a year.

In addition a feasability study of town centre regeneration works had cost £200,000 and councillors had given themselves a higher pay rise than estimated – £60,000 a year.

Labour’s Coun Bill Hartnett (Church Hill) told the controlling group: “This Section 24 notice has been a humiliation for this council and I do hope the lessons have been learnt.”

Authority leader Coun Matt Dormer hit back saying: “This did not happen overnight – yes we have made mistakes but we were warned this was coming six years ago and you (when Labour were in charge) did nothing.”

One thing both sides recognised was the impact central government cuts had made.

The report detailed how the authority had made £18million in savings over seven years to 2019 – more than 40 per cent of net total expenditure with a further £1.5million in savings needed by 2022-23.

In addition the New Homes Bonus paid out by the government to local authorities to encourage house building is to end, the last payment – £459,000 – coming in the next financial year.

Furthermore council tax increases will be limited to just two per cent.

Coun Mike Rouse (Con, Church Hill) said: “It would have been helpful if the (voluntary sector) protesters from earlier in the meeting had been here to see what we face.

“We have to see what services we stop doing and what things we do differently, moving funding pressures away from the borough council and more on the NHS, Clinical Commissioning Groups, and County Council.”

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