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Big decisions at Swale council budget meeting

There were stormy scenes at a critically important council meeting ahead of May’s general election, which saw voting to approve the budget for the 2015/16 year.

Some of the key points were: council tax will be frozen for the fifth year running, the authority intends to maintain its reserves for ‘unexpected one-off events’ and borrow
£6 million to fund in relation to the Sittingbourne regeneration project.

The majority of members also voted to give themselves a 1% increase in members’ allowances as part of the overall budget package.

Cllr Andrew Bowles
Cllr Andrew Bowles

In his budget speech, Cllr Duncan Dewar-Whalley (Con), said: “This is yet another year we have been able to increase income, deliver efficiency, and protect frontline services.

“We have lost £4 million in government grants. In 2010, the grant was £12.1 million, down to £8.1 million in 2014/15 and in 2015/16 a further loss of £1.3 million.

“In the past four years we have cut council tax in real terms.”

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As new leader of the Labour group, Cllr Adam Tolhurst responded to the budget speech with his own prepared address in which he argued the council had missed out on a lot of money by not raising council tax.

Cllr Adam Tolhurst
Cllr Adam Tolhurst

The Milton Regis ward member said that because Swale’s cut of money from each household’s council tax bill is so small - just 11% - it had not made a big difference to how much people saved.

The 49-year-old said: “Seventy-three per cent of a resident’s overall council tax bill goes to KCC and they are going to be raising theirs by 1.99% for the coming year. An increase of £21.

“Now what if this council had decided not to accept a freeze and instead raised council tax year on year by about 1.99%?

“The council tax freeze grant is worth £80K and by not having a rise of up to 2% this council has missed out on raising £80,000.

“Times it by five years for a total of £400,000 not raised.”

He also went on to criticise the £14 million in reserves the council had amassed, arguing the money should be spent on improving services and took aim at the proposed additional £6 million in borrowing.

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