The 2019/20 budget for Peterborough City Council was approved at the meeting of Full Council last night (March 6).
Included is a 2.99 per cent rise in council tax which means the average Band D household will see their bill rise by more than £30 a year, on top of rises to the police and fire precepts.
The budget proposals from the Conservative administration were passed by a majority vote of 32 to 20, with two abstentions, but not before some heated exchanges passed between councillors while debating an ‘alternative budget’ proposal from the Labour shadow cabinet member for resources Cllr Amjad Iqbal.
Cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the Labour group, said: “This Conservative administration is raiding the reserves and selling off assets to balance the books, and if it continues year after year then soon there will be nothing left of value.
“Years from now, when there’s nothing left to sell, Cllr David Seaton will stand here before us, just as he is doing tonight, and say ‘oh hindsight is a wonderful thing to have’ and, ‘if only we could’ve seen into the future, we would’ve done things so very differently’.
“We need a better strategy than that, because what this administration is doing is flogging-off the future to make themselves look good to voters today.”
The budget proposals from the Labour group was received with a mixed reception as members from all political persuasions agreed that it had many points of merit, including a council-run £10 million investment fund for local businesses to invest in technology - turning Peterborough into a genuine ‘digital city’ - and spending £90 million a year to build 3,000 council houses over the next five years.
There was also a new transport app that could be downloaded so that a minibus could collect and drop-off passengers from any location, replacing some of the more expensive bus routes.
But Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, deputy leader of the council, pointed out: “We have been working night and day on our budget for the past seven months, and then at the very last hour the Labour group present us with their alternative – why has it come to us so late?
“I agree that there are some elements of this alternative budget that are very interesting, but I would also argue that it just goes to prove some of the members of the Labour group are actually closet Conservatives – they must be, because they’ve adopted so many of our policies in their so-called alternative budget.
“Their so-called alternative investment company to encourage affordable housing is exactly what we are doing with Medesham Homes, only instead of a £10 million cap, we have no such limit.
“The current Conservative government is still paying for the disaster that was the last Labour government, and if the Labour group were ever to gain power over this administration they would do what Labour always does to pay for these things, they would raise taxes massively!”
Cllr Nawaz responded: “We’re bumbling along with this Conservative administration which has for the past 18 years achieved very little of note except continually raise council tax.
“One day, when they’ve spent everything, sold everything off, when there’s nothing left in the pot and we are totally broke, then they will turn around and say ‘oh, okay, maybe now Labour or the Lib Dems should have a go’.
“Well, I warn you now that dark days are coming, and therefore I cannot support their budget.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Nick Sandford said: “The consensus is that while the amendment by the Labour group has raised many good points, it has come too late in the process to be of significance tonight.
“I do feel, however, that the Conservative administration would benefit from looking at it more carefully instead of being so flippant and dismissive, and that forming a cross party group for the next budget year would be supported by many.”
When voted on the Labour group proposals were heavily defeated.
Cllr David Seaton, cabinet member for resources, presenting the budget to councillors, said: “While I concede that there are some good ideas in the alternative budget that has been proposed this evening, it has come far too late to be put before this chamber and I am pleased that members have seen it for what it is – pure electioneering on behalf of the Labour Party.”