I’m pleased to be able to report that for the fourth year in a row, average Bedford Borough Council tax is being frozen.
This was confirmed at a recent full council meeting where our budget received unanimous support. The budget not only reduces the real cost of council tax compared to inflation yet again, but also continues our safeguarding of key services being lost elsewhere.
That means all children’s centres, libraries, leisure centres, weekly bin collections and the rural bus network, for example, are protected in Bedford Borough.
Unlike in some other places, we are not keeping the tax bills down by imposing stealth rises in fees and charges. Far from it, in fact, with a fourth straight year of the shoppers’ car park charge freeze underway and the Free Parking Deal continuing. We have also rejected the approach of a number of councils, including several nearby, which have increased council tax for the very poorest.
We are working to protect the most vulnerable, which is why, for example, the budget includes an extra £5 million for children’s social care.
The budget also invests in the future of the borough, with funding for the crucial final phase of the western bypass and an expanded bus station area regeneration project, one of a series of exciting schemes breathing new life into the heart of Bedford. Meanwhile, a massive programme of investment in new school buildings will eradicate temporary classrooms altogether in order to help give local children the best possible opportunities for learning.
Having to make savings of over £60 million in five years just to balance the books has involved very tough decisions, and the challenge is ongoing. We are meeting it by taking a strategic approach and by focusing savings in Borough Hall, not out in the community where important services are provided.