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MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Council leader ‘disappointed’ at budget

MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Council leader ‘disappointed’ at budget

The budget was announced in parliament this week

The leader of Leeds City Council has said he is “disappointed” at chancellor’s budget, claiming Rishi Sunak had missed an opportunity to make much-needed reforms to local government financing.

He also cited the Government’s rejection of multi-million pound plans to open a wellbeing centre in east Leeds, and complained that no more light was shone on the mystery surrounding the government’s long term aim for schemes such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The budget was announced in parliament this week, and included a rise in national insurance contributions, an increase of the national living wage and extra support for working universal credit claimants.

It also claimed that councils would see a real-terms rise in their core spending power.

But Coun James Lewis (Lab) said the announcements must be viewed in the context of Leeds City Council’s financial position after 11 years of government cuts, and that more should have been done to overhaul council finances.

“It said in the budget book that there would be the largest rise in core  spending power in more than 10 years,” he said. “This is after the Conservatives cut it by nearly 60 percent over 10 years. It is hardly an achievement.

“With rising costs and the Government’s commitment to an increase in public sector pay, it’s not easy to say how much of this will be new money for services, or how much will cover existing costs.

“The disappointing thing for me about this is that we didn’t get any substantial reform of local council financing around needing to provide extra social care as well as supporting businesses in the city.

“It feels like tinkering, rather than the big response we have been waiting a long time for.”

Among the announcements was a £20m from the levelling up fund to improve roads in west Leeds.

The road works – which will take place in Conservative MP Stewart Andrew’s constituency – is expected to include junction improvements at Fink Hill, Horsforth roundabout and at Calverley Lane; new pedestrian and cycling facilities along the Ring Road; and new pedestrian and cycle crossings.

However, a bid placed at the same time, alongside one to open a wellbeing centre at Fearnville Leisure Centre in Gipton appears to have been rejected.

Coun Lewis added: “Clearly any investment in transport is welcome but, if levelling up is helping the most deprived communities, I am surprised that investing in Fearnville Sports Centre, which is in one of the most deprived parts of Leeds, is not an equal priority.

“On transport, we need certainty, not just on small schemes, but also on some of the big schemes – I had hoped to have seen that today.”

The budget also included a reduction of the Universal Credit taper rate, which could see families claiming the benefit take more money home.

Coun Lewis said: “It’s a step that lots of people have been calling for, but it needs to be viewed in the context of the removal of the £20 uplift, as well as the rocketing cost of living, with energy bills and inflation up.

“There doesn’t seem to be a concerted package to help everyone affected by this.”

Leader of Leeds City Council’s Conservatives group Coun Andrew Carter said: “This was a well thought out Budget, focussing on areas that matter to individuals, helping the lower paid, raising the National Living Wage, moving towards balancing the books and significant investment for West Yorkshire and Leeds, not least for the scheme I have been promoting in West Leeds.

“I shall be delighted to help support and lobby, as usual, for the infrastructure money promised by the government to be properly spent by the Council for the benefit of the people of Leeds.”

 

Words: Richard Beecham, Local Democracy Reporter


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