West Norfolk Council given 'white elephant' warning as budget set
West Norfolk Council has been criticised for showing “poor leadership” and resembling a “poisoned chalice” as members’ voted to raise council tax.
Members backed plans to raise the authority’s share of council tax bills by £4.50 a year for an average band D property at a meeting last night, where they agreed their budget for the upcoming financial year.
Council leader Brian Long urged members to vote through the council tax – and said the total cost would still be among the lowest quarter in the country and said rates were increasing in line with inflation.
Labour group deputy leader Jo Rust proposed an amendment to the motion to increase the charges by one per cent less, and said local people “shouldn’t be expected to shoulder the burden of this increase”.
But the move was rejected by the council who voted against it 37 to nine, with five abstentions.
Members then debated the plans for the financial strategy, which sees the council warning it will be forced to dip into its reserves by more than £3m by 2024,
Labour’s Charles Joyce said: “I have greatest sympathy for Brian Long.
“He has picked up a poisoned chalice but unfortunately he is drinking from it too quickly.
“We have to stop with this white elephants. The Corn Exchange is almost certainly going to go over budget. It is a dire situation.”
And Independent councillor Alun Ryves added: “We don’t appear to have a plan for looking after ourselves in the future. The plan does absolutely nothing to protect us from a fall in reserves.
“It’s very poor leadership.”
But Conservative Mr Long defended the council’s stance.
“We have got to be more commercial and do more to raise revenue,” he said. “If we can get the funding stream flowing properly we can generate that income we need to balance our books and deliver a budget that means council tax in the future can be reduced again.”
He added: “Our council tax will still be in the lowest quartile of the council’s across the country.
“Money raised in West Norfolk should be spent in West Norfolk.”
There were 34 votes in favour, 17 against, and no abstentions.
Speaking after the vote, Mrs Rust said: “It might sound like a small increase but for those in need it could be make or break.
"There are some families for whom that is a rise too far… who genuinely struggle to get through a week without running out at the end.”
More by this authorJessica Frank-Keyes, Local Democracy Reporter