Budget approved but still a mountain to climb

Tuesday, 5 March 2024 18:21

By Martyn Smith, Local Democracy Reporter

Dudley’s finance chief admitted the council has a mountain to climb during a debate on the 2024 budget.

Cllr Steve Clark, Conservative cabinet member for finance, told a meeting of the full council on March 4 that saving £15m and hiking council tax by five percent is only part of the tough measures needed to get the authority back to stability.

He said more savings must be found during the summer while a huge review of services is ongoing.

Cllr Clark said: “We have worked hard to identify further savings achieved by implementing  spending controls and the use of grants as well as reviewing our capital programme to reduce the cost of borrowing.

“We are not complacent about the long-term outlook, we know that to continue operating within a legal and sustainable budget we will have to radically reduce the total operating model of the council.

“Work is underway now and we will not wait for the ordinary autumn budget timetable, we want to be approving new savings and income measures as soon as the summer.”

Cllr Shaukat Ali, Labour’s finance spokesman slammed the council’s Conservative administration, he said: “Today is a crucial moment, we are deciding the future of our council. The situation is critical, years of Conservative mismanagement have left us on the brink of financial collapse.

“This is not an accident, we told them this would happen, residents did not cause this yet they are the ones who will bear this and suffer the most.”

Dudley’s Labour opposition leader, Cllr Pete Lowe, latched onto the unpopular freezing of Community Forum small grants which support voluntary groups in individual council wards.

Current spending restrictions mean 2023 community forum cash is held in limbo which Conservative leaders have pledged to release as soon as possible.

For the next three years the annual £240,000 allocated for these grants is part of the savings identified as the authority battles to balance its books and rebuild reserves.

Cllr Lowe told the council if Labour came to power they would review councillors allowances to bring the grants back in the first year.

Council leader, Cllr Patrick Harley, turned his guns on Cllr Ali, accusing him of wanting to slash services to save cash.

He said: “We are resolving this budget, a deficit cut by half in just four months. We took the correct measures in October with spending controls in place. They are now starting to bite and they are working.

“The Labour front bench has criticised us – saying we need to go further and faster.

“That can only mean one thing – cuts to frontline services.”

Lib Dem councillor Ryan Priest said: “This budget might be legal but it is not fair, Dudley is in this position because of a decade of managed decline by both the Conservatives and Labour.”

Cllr Mark Westwood, from the new group of independent councillors, said: “Not many moons ago we were a four-star council for our budget performance. Where on Earth has it gone wrong?

“Where was the forward thinking in the leadership? Communities are going to be paying for this for years to come.”

Following the debate councillors voted to approve the budget by 39 votes to 27.


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