Bus subsidies stay - but council tax rise 'inevitable' says Central Beds Council's leader

Leader says council has spent “every waking moment” considering potential savings to close budget shortfall
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An “inevitable” full five per cent council tax increase is expected for Central Bedfordshire Council’s share in 2024/25, according to a social media post from the council leader.

A “long list” of savings is planned to set the local authority “on a more even keel for years to come”, explained Independent Potton councillor Adam Zerny.

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The new Independent ruling group says “the previous Conservative administration is a significant factor in the need for council tax to rise when the next budget is set” this month.

Central Beds Council's headquarters and inset, Councillor Adam Zerny, Leader of CBCCentral Beds Council's headquarters and inset, Councillor Adam Zerny, Leader of CBC
Central Beds Council's headquarters and inset, Councillor Adam Zerny, Leader of CBC

A council tax freeze for CBC’s share was applied by the Conservatives for 2023/24, when the party was in control of the authority.

“Our budgeting process had to begin with a deficit approaching £25m,” said councillor Zerny on Facebook.

“This shortfall combined with inflation running at nearly ten per cent for a year, means the council has to generate cash or cut costs.

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“With these numbers in mind, it’s inevitable CBC will need to raise (its share of) council tax by five per cent this month. But it’s clear council tax alone won’t be enough to protect vital services.

“We’ve spent every waking moment of the last eight months considering potential savings across all areas.

“These include cutting borrowing while interest rates remain high, considering new options for income generation, replacing IT equipment less frequently, reducing allowances given to councillors and only filling essential vacancies.

“Other measures include a reduction in building maintenance other than for emergency and safety considerations, reduced management costs and office cleaning, not providing food waste bags for free, and pausing spend on non-essential new building works.

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“This has brought down the deficit massively, although even with these measures, and the use of an eye-watering £17m of council financial reserves, the gap between income and proposed spend sits at more than £2m.

“The council has to approve a balanced budget with spend equalling income. We ran a public consultation in December, which gave the public a chance to decide where CBC should make savings.”

Bus subsidies will remain as the Independent administration “feels strongly that without further investigation it would have been wrong to cut” these.

“While we now know there are bus routes running with very few passengers, this must be properly investigated,” added councillor Zerny.

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“We need to understand how community transport groups can help and whether there are new innovative methods being employed elsewhere. This will take time.

“The most popular proposal was to start charging for garden waste collection. Many local councils do this already and charging a similar sum to those would provide the council with an estimated extra £2m a year. We also hope to bring in kerbside glass waste collections next year.”

CBC’s budget is due to be set on Thursday, February 22. Councillor Zerny has written to treasury ministers and the Prime Minister to seek further funding for the council.

The five per cent rise includes two per cent for adult social care costs. There are extra levies from town and parish councils, as well as for Bedfordshire’s police force and county fire service.