Parties clash as council tax goes up in Pendle

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A political row broke out between the Conservative administration at Pendle Council and their Labour and Liberal Democrat opposition over the setting of council tax and the borough’s budget for the coming year.

Labour councillors reacted with disappointment at the decision by the Tory administration to impose the maximum council tax rise of 2.99%, while the Tories accused their opposition of forcing through their high-spending budget.

Over 60% of homes in Pendle are in Band A, so Pendle Borough Council’s increase in council tax is £5.61 for the year – which is 10.7p per week. Band D properties will see an increase from £281.50 to £289.92 – an increase of just £8.42 over the next year.

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The Tory council leader, Coun. Nadeem Ahmed, also accused the borough’s Labour Mayor, Coun. Yasser Iqbal, of not remaining “apolitical” in the votes.

Debates at the Pendle Council budget setting meetingDebates at the Pendle Council budget setting meeting
Debates at the Pendle Council budget setting meeting

He said: “The mayoralty in Pendle is meant to be ceremonial. However, it was once again deployed to hand an extra vote to the Labour party, meaning that with one of our councillors absent through illness, our fiscally responsible budget was defeated and control of the Development Management Committee was handed to one of Coun. Iqbal’s colleagues.

"We saw this behaviour throughout last summer during the terminal illness of our colleague, the late Coun. Carlo Lionti, when the opposition successfully stopped many of the elements of our Transformation Programme, by winding back the clock to the re-adoption of laborious and expensive methods of decision-making while also loading officers with onerous, non-core projects via the exploitation of council motions.

‘Slow-motion car crash’ – Conservatives

"It’s a slow-motion car crash to insolvency, as Labour and the Lib Dems seem determined to burn through the council’s ever diminishing reserves.”

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Rose Rouse, Coun. Nadeem Ahmed, Howard Culshaw, Coun. Yasser Iqbal and Coun. Brian NewmanRose Rouse, Coun. Nadeem Ahmed, Howard Culshaw, Coun. Yasser Iqbal and Coun. Brian Newman
Rose Rouse, Coun. Nadeem Ahmed, Howard Culshaw, Coun. Yasser Iqbal and Coun. Brian Newman

Pendle Council’s Director of Resources Richard Gibson had warned in his report that it was important to note the rate at which reserves were being used to support the General Fund Revenue Budget was not sustainable over the medium term without the need to align expenditure more closely with ongoing resources.

He added: “If action is not taken to balance the revenue position, it is inevitable that general reserves will run out…”

‘Punishing local people’

Labour group leader Coun. Asjad Mahmood responded by saying: “It is the case Pendle Tories have failed to secure no extra funding to provide frontline services from their government and instead are punishing local people for their lack of commitment to residents.

“It’s easy to provide graphs but people can not be taken as fools and believe the Tory failure.”

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‘Mis-handling of the country’s finances’ – Labour

On the issue of council tax, he added: “At the meeting, Labour proposed a zero increase in Pendle's share of the council tax as it is the case due to the mis-handling of the country's finances by the Tory government, people across Pendle are struggling.

“However, despite a obe hour adjournment for discussions between all political parties, the Tories refused to listen to other groups and forced through a 2.99% increase which means on average an extra £100 will be added to people's council tax bills.

"The Tories last year put aside over £250,000 for consultants to identify savings but 12 months on nothing has happened other than a waste of money which could have been spent on front-line services.”

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Deputy Leader of the Labour group Coun. Mohammed Hanif added: “The Labour budget was focused on protecting front-line services important to people across Pendle.

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"The Tories’ budget focused on cutting services and during the adjournment. I'm pleased that despite Tory opposition, Labour led the way in ensuing no cuts were made to key services and tory proposals to charge for replacement bins, charging for bulky household items to be removed amongst others were rejected.”

‘Hugely irresponsible’ – Conservatives

However, Coun. David Cockburn-Price, the Tory chairman of Pendle Council’s Accounts and Audit Committee, accused Labour’s council tax freeze proposal as “hugely irresponsible”.

He also claimed that Labour’s calculations had omitted the increase in costs of £75,000 budgeted for replacement bins and the levies of £45,000 that Pendle will face to deal with Persistent Organic Pollutants in bulky waste collections.

Coun. Cockburn-Price added: “The Opposition kept these costly services, which are often abused by residents, free. Typically too, the Labour budget contains zero increases in taxi licensing and pest control, not even inflation.

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“The big final giveaway was an attempt to grab the headlines with a council tax freeze, which is hugely irresponsible, as it would deplete the council’s resources by £208,000 and have a knock-on compound effect in the future.”

A proposal put forward by the Conservatives and retained by the Opposition in their joint budget, was the reinstatement of the Brownfield Regeneration Fund, taking capital stakes in developments of marginally viable brownfield sites, repaid once the houses are sold – regenerating our neglected brownfield land and safeguarding our greenfields.

In addition, the Conservatives’ proposal to boost pre-application advice will, they believe, benefit hundreds of households a year and make the council’s planning process more efficient.

Gap of £1.4m.

The final budget left a gap to be met by reserves of £713,000, although adding back the un-negotiated contract reduction and unspecified savings leaves a gap of £1.4m, further threatening the already precarious council finances, according to the Tories.

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The Conservative Group’s budget proposed additional savings by sharing costs with other council partners, like the Pendle Leisure Trust and Liberata.

Other Tory proposals were cuts to Area Committee allocations and bringing in charging for the council’s discretionary services, such as replacement bin and bulky waste collections, with appropriate support for vulnerable residents.