Bradford Council’s budget for the coming year was approved during a meeting where the authority’s troubled Children’s Services department was once again a major topic of debate.
The budget for the year beginning April 2022 will include a 1.99 per cent rise in Council Tax along with a one per cent “social care precept” – meaning households will have to pay an extra three per cent this year.
However, unlike many previous budgets, this year there will be no major cuts to services, or job losses.
The Council will need to dip into its reserves to the tune of £8.3m, to balance the budget.
The budget also included an additional £7.5m for ,Children’s Services. Other political groups on the Council claimed this was unlikely to cover the ever rising costs of the department, and argued that the financial issues with Children’s Services were down to years of poor leadership.
Each year the leading Labour Group proposes its budget, which is then debated at a full Council meeting. Other parties can propose alternate budgets. However, with a Labour majority on the Council, it has been highly unlikely in recent years that alternate budgets would get the votes needed to be approved over the Labour budget.
This year was no different, with alternate budgets proposed by the Conservative, Lib Dem and Green groups at the budget meeting on Thursday afternoon.
Proposing the Labour budget, Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe pointed out that the majority of the rival budgets shared many of the proposals. She said: “We all agree the importance of extra funding for social care, we all agree on the use of some reserves.”
She said the Council was now spending £30m a year more on Children’s Social Care than it was in 2019, adding: “Adult and children’s Social Care accounts for 60 per cent of Council spending each year.”
She described the Conservative budget as an “election leaflet budget” and mentioned how Council budgets had been reduced by £300m through the Conservative Government’s Austerity measures since 2010.
The Conservatives proposed their own budget, with an extra £15m allocated to Children’s Services for a “Crisis Mitigation Fund.” While the party also called for a Council Tax rise, it would be by one per cent rather than 1.99 per cent.
However, the party’s budget would require it to dip further into Council reserves, to the tune of an extra £3m.
Councillor Mike Pollard (Cons, Baildon) presented his party’s budget and said “the austerity story is wearing a bit thin,” arguing the spending power of the Council was in better shape this year.
He said much of the financial strain in recent years has been down to the beleaguered Children’s Service department, where over £1.7m is spent every month on agency staff to deal with the shortfall in children’s social workers.
Cllr Pollard said: “I don’t automatically join the T&A commenters in their toxic and often defamatory calls for leaders to stand down, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to see what leadership accountability means on this Council.”
He argued that with a major shake up in Children’s Services – Government recently announced the Council would no longer be running the service, with it instead being run by a trust, it was “unrealistic” to think that the extra £7.5m proposed by Labour would be enough.
Conservative leader Rebecca Poulsen (Worth Valley) added: “It is failure of leadership that has led to the inadequacy of Children’s Services, and which will cost every single person in the District.”
Councillor Kevin Warnes (Green, Shipley) proposed his party’s budget, which included more spending on green energy and active travel measures. He pointed out that suggestions made by the party years ago, such as rolling out electric Council vehicles, was only now being adopted by the authority.
Councillor Jeanette Sunderland (Lib Dem, Idle and Thackley) presented her party’s budget. She said: “I think this is the saddest budget meeting I have ever taken part in. I feel the Labour group has failed our most precious residents, and the failures in Children’s Services is casting a long shadow over the budget and Council finances. Never have children and young people been so at risk. Don’t whisper that you didn’t know the extent of the problem. Don’t whisper that it was officers’ fault or the T&A’s fault.
“The budget process is being overshadowed by the cost of agency staff.”
The Lib Dem budget included support for buildings and organisations that offer space to young people, and a new fund to protect the District’s rivers.
She said years’ of failures in Children’s Services led to the department needed constant injections of extra cash, and added: “It means other people may not be getting the services they need.”
After debating the various budgets, the vote fell along party lines, with the Labour budget being approved.