Budget for cash-strapped Central Bedfordshire Council approved after 4-hour debate

Central Beds Council's headquarters in Chicksands.Central Beds Council's headquarters in Chicksands.
Central Beds Council's headquarters in Chicksands.
“Asking you to pay more is not something we take lightly or without careful consideration” says council leader

After four hours of debating and amending, Central Bedfordshire Council’s budget was agreed by Full Council last night (Thursday, February 22).

Ten amendments to the Independent administration’s Final Revenue Budget and Medium-Term Financial Plan 2024/25-2027/28 were debated, with four being carried.

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These included bringing forward the Leighton Buzzard Leisure Centre project, keeping ward member grants, and increasing the charges for permits in controlled parking zones.

One of the unsuccessful amendments included an attempt to defer the £55 garden waste charge by one year from the Conservative Group.

When introducing the budget to council members, the executive member for finance, councillor John Baker (Independent, Aspley and Woburn) said the new administration is having to deal with “the biggest cost reduction challenge ever to have faced this council”.

“No one stood for election in May 2023 with the expectation of making these choices, but the public expects us to protect core services,” he said.

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“So if you can’t support this budget, sit on your hands, go do something else but voting against it or supporting completely unaffordable amendments places those services at risk.”

Before the vote for the amended budget, councillor James Jamieson (Conservative, Westoning, Flitton and Greenfield) said: “This budget and the problems we’re in today are entirely down to the [Independent administration].

“You have mismanaged this budget this year.

“In October, councillor Baker said he was confident of a balanced budget. A month later we had the publication of a massive overspend.

“In November, councillor Whittaker decided in the Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee that there wasn’t anything particularly important that she ought to update members on. Only for a day or two later to find out that there was a £6 million plus overspend.

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“Last week, we heard councillor Baker who, when I said it’s your job to be on top of the budget, said, ‘it’s not my job, I’m only a volunteer.

“It is hardly surprising that we have an overspend on this budget and that’s why we’re facing such a difficult budget for next year.”

Councillor Baker said: “There were really fascinating debates tonight, the budget is better as a result of the debate we’ve had.

“I think this process has been difficult but I hope you can see it was much better than the process that we’ve seen over the last few years.

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“Perhaps if we had this much debate a year ago or two years ago, we may not be in this situation,” he said.

In a statement published after the council meeting, councillor Adam Zerny, council leader, said: “This budget has always been about protecting the key services.

“The changes to garden waste and council tax mean we can keep all our other services running such as libraries, leisure centres and children’s centres, as well as adult social care and services for children and families.

We are acutely aware of the increased cost of living for residents. Asking you to pay more is not something we take lightly or without careful consideration.

“In the face of great financial pressures, key services have been retained and we have worked to protect the council’s reserves.

“This is a sensible budget. A prudent budget.”