Lib Dems say Tory rivals have "no ambition, no ideas" as they back £45 tax hike

By Midsomer Norton & Radstock   |   Editor   |
Wednesday 16th February 2022 12:00 pm
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Liberal Democrats claim only they can chart a positive path through the “perfect storm” threatening Bath and North East Somerset Council.

With just over 14 months until the next local elections the party ramped up the attacks, saying they trust Tories less than snake oil salesmen and dismissing a Labour councillor’s criticism as a “rambling set of irrational thoughts”.

Lib Dem council leader Kevin Guy said he rejected the Conservatives’ “downward spiral of negativity”, with colleague Dave Wood saying the rival party had “no ambition, no ideas, just saying no, just cuts and redundancies”.

Cabinet members unanimously backed the proposed budget for 2022/23 after scrapping planned parking charges for Radstock and Midsomer Norton, and assuring campaigners there would not be a “wholesale” move of council services into Bath Central Library.

A £45 council tax increase for the average household is set to be signed off next week.

Deputy leader Richard Samuel, the cabinet member for resources, said the council’s heritage services and commercial estate are struggling to recover from the pandemic and he expects its income to be down £13million in 2022/23.

“When this is added to the significant inflationary pressures in the wider economy and

the post-lockdown service pressures, we have a perfect storm,” he said.

“I do not expect the council to emerge from this financial maelstrom until 2025/6 at the earliest, by which time £82.3million gross will have been lost forever.

“Against this background, the cabinet set itself the task of maintaining the drive to improve living standards for Bath and North East Somerset residents by holding spending on transport, and substantially enhancing our vital neighbourhood services and beginning the task of building the first council houses in our area for a generation.

“We also committed to try and keep any council tax rise to a minimum recognising that pressures on household incomes are severe at present due to the government’s failure to fully protect households from the spike in energy prices.

“This is a budget that maximises our ambition to make Bath and North East Somerset a better place, that maintains the move towards carbon reduction particularly in transport, that invests in key services, and provides the building of new council houses for the first time in over 30 years.”

He turned to a recent interview with Cllr Vic Pritchard on Somer Valley FM, in which the Conservative group leader criticised the Lib Dems’ “aggressive, arrogant and deceitful” approach and said there will be a “lot of reversals when we take control”.

Mr Pritchard said the redundancies under the last Tory administration were “cruel” to those who lost their jobs but there was “nothing outrageous adversely affected”, and the party would “probably have to do something of a similar kind this time round”, while protecting frontline services.

Mr Samuel said reversing the Lib Dems’ decisions for “right wing ideological reasons” was a waste of taxpayer money and the “populist” proposals would cost millions but were unfunded, adding that it was “nonsense” to claim staff could be sacked without harming frontline services.

He told the meeting: “I would no more take a Tory promise than I would buy the elixir of life from a snake oil salesman.

“After the waste and incompetence of the last Tory administration we have brought the council’s finances under control and are investing in the future of our area. We invest, they slash and burn.”

Mr Guy added: “The Tories spent years cutting services, reducing staff numbers and wasting millions of local taxpayers’ money on redundancies. This Lib Dem administration has said no to this downward spiral of negativity.

“Instead of burning, we are building. Instead of moaning, we are doing. Instead of hatred, we give hope.”

Responding to Labour councillor Grant Johnson’s claims the Lib Dems were playing politics by opposing the party’s own proposed parking charges in Midsomer Norton and Radstock, Mr Guy said he had “rarely heard such a rambling set of irrational thoughts”.

The charges were ditched, with Mr Samuel saying the council had listened to concerns.

Cabinet members highlighted positives in the budget, including:

A decent pay settlement for staff

Delivering on the manifesto pledge to build the first new council houses in decades

funding to develop the business case for the Fashion Museum to its new location in the Milsom Quarter and the development of a collections centre

Cash to regenerate high streets

Completion of the Radstock healthy living centre

Plans to relocate primary and secondary alternative provision onto the Culverhay school site – this still leaves a significant part of the site available for a new education offer

Funding to fix the roof at the Carrswood Day Centre to safeguard its future supporting some of the district’s most vulnerable residents

Money to try again to “combat the blight which gulls bring to residents”

Investing in getting the basics right

Ensuring impacts of transport schemes are mitigated for those people who need the most support

Cllr Manda Rigby said assuming the budget goes through, over the next few weeks there will be updates on liveable neighbourhoods, residents’ parking zones and active travel.

LDRS, Stephen Sumner

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