Cherwell District Council was praised for refusing to raise its share of council tax for the ninth year in a row while not cutting services.
The tax freeze, £106.7m of expenditure – including £68m for the takeover of Castle Quay Shopping Centre – and the borrowing to fund it was approved by councillors last night (Monday, February 26).
Lead member for finance Cllr Tony Ilott said Cherwell was one of only 24 local authorities in the country that has not increased its share of council tax.
“I’m proud that, despite cuts in government funding, we are freezing our share of the council tax once again,” he said.
“That we are able to do this for a ninth year in a row is testament to the hard work that’s been done behind the scenes making savings, adopting a commercial mind set, and planning proactively and prudently.
“We continue to deliver high quality services for everyone who lives in Cherwell, but it’s right that we continue to charge residents no more than is strictly necessary.”
The opposition Labour Party voted against the budget saying the ruling Conservative group has ‘no idea’ how to run the council.
Labour group leader Cllr Sean Woodcock said: “The party opposite have no ideas on delivering their business plan. They have no ideas for running this authority.”
He added: “We will support the capital programme, we will not be supporting their proposed budget because we can have no confidence in them as an administration to run this district.”
But many members congratulated the council for its prudence, as Independent councillor Les Sibley said the council should be proud of its record and Cllr Nicholas Mawer commended the financial officers and councillors.
Cllr Ilott defended the ‘heavy’ investment in Castle Quay, with another £62m due to be spent in the next budget for the extension, as it ‘will bring money in to this council and it is something that will be there in tens of years and increase in value’.
During the forthcoming financial year, Cherwell’s share of council tax will be set at £123.50 for a Band D property.
But taxpayers’ bills will go up, with Oxfordshire County Council, Thames Valley Police and many parish councils raising their shares of the tax.
Council leader Barry Wood said the local authority chose not to increase its share of council tax because it is not necessary to.
“This is not a utopia but we live in a good council that does things well but can still improve,” he said.
A recommendation to increase councillors’ allowances by two per cent was also approved despite the Labour Party representatives refusal to support the scheme.
Cllr Woodcock said: “We feel it is inappropriate at a time when public sector staff across the country are not getting a sufficient raise in their salary, for us to increase our allowances.”
Cllr Kieron Mallon responded by saying councillors do not have to claim the money and the increase is relativiely small, with Cherwell ranking among the lowest-paying councils in the country.
He added that the allowance means more people who feel like they cannot afford to be a councillor can be involved in local politics, increasing the authority’s diversity.
The basic allowance for councillors has gone up from £4,200 to £4,284, as recommended by the Independent Renumeration Panel.