Liberal Democrat proposals to provide help for the elderly, deliver ambitious plans to tackle the environmental emergency and give financial assistance to low income families were all rejected last night by the ruling Conservative administration at West Berkshire Council.
At the budget setting meeting of the Council, Liberal Democrats tabled 14 amendments to the budget that would have helped deliver much improved environmental, educational and economic outcomes for residents across the district.
Lib Dem Leader Cllr Lee Dillon said “Our amendments showed that the Council can provide more services and still have a balanced budget that takes into account future risks. By voting down every amendment it just shows that the Tories will only accept an idea if it comes from their own benches. Because of their attitude, children on free school meals will go hungry during the school holidays, those on the lowest incomes will have to pay if they want to recycle their green waste and children in our rural areas will have to pay to use school transport, adding more cars to roads and harming our environment”.
The Liberal Democrat amendments sought to use £627,000 of earmarked reserves to balance the budget.
Shadow Finance Portfolio holder Cllr Jeff Brooks added “This Council is sitting on nearly £25 million of reserves. This isn’t their money, it is residents’ money collected over years of tax rises. We are seeing our town centres under severe pressure, businesses leaving the area and the attainment gap for children not improving. When will the Conservatives realise that this money is our money and should be spent on providing much needed services”.
Cllr Brooks continued “The administration has yet again not only failed to act when we need them to, but their budget has seen more money being put into reserves to give them a cash cow at future elections. If they adopted sound financial management and carried out a zero-based budgeting exercise, where you rebuild your budgets annually, we are confident they would find savings without harming services. But instead of doing the hard work they just raise taxes and stash the cash away in ear-marked reserves for pet projects”.
The Liberal Democrats also proposed amendments to the Capital Strategy asking for more money to be spent on drainage clearance and expanding the number of defibrillators across the district. This would have cost the council an additional £19,000 per year making our roads safer and greatly expanding the coverage of, and access to, urgent medical equipment where every minute of delayed treatment decreases the chances of survival.
Cllr Alan Macro, the Lib Dem Transport Spokesman, commented “We have all seen the effects of the cuts made two years ago to highway drainage. Roads are flooding with very little rain, making it dangerous for drivers and pedestrians, but as it hides the potholes maybe that it why the administration would not support such a sensible measure”.
Cllr Adrian Abbs, who came up with the idea of expanding the number of defibrillators, was disappointed with the administration’s response. “If the Council had backed our plans to invest in defibrillators, it would have received match-funding meaning our money would work harder for us and would have had more of an impact. Defibs make a real difference on survival rates in cardiac arrest victims and the Liberal Democrats wanted to put more of these in the community so people could get access quickly, helping to save lives”.