04:07PM, Thursday 22 February 2018
A council tax rise and large-scale borrowing were voted through by councillors in a tempestuous Royal Borough meeting on Tuesday.
The 2018/19 budget includes a 1.95 per cent rise in council tax together with a three per cent adult social care levy.
Cabinet member for finance Cllr MJ Saunders (Con, Bisham and Cookham) said the budget would improve the quality of residents’ lives, especially the ‘vulnerable’, and meet the demand for infrastructure investments.
But Cllr Lynne Jones, leading the opposition group Not the Administration (NTA), said that while the budget was ‘technically competent’ for the next year, she was concerned about the long-term risk of borrowing large sums of money for projects at this time.
She criticised the year-on-year council tax reductions previously enacted by the Conservatives, which she said left the council without the funds necessary for investment.
The council plans to borrow just under £73m for projects such as the Braywick Leisure Centre development and school expansions.
The meeting turned sour when the Conservative group became furious after Cllr Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) described the budget as ‘fundamentally based on debt’ and said: “The future of finances rests on risk with this council, predicated, let’s face it, on the sale of Maidenhead Golf Club.”
He also cited Brexit and a potential rejection of the Borough Local Plan by the Planning Inspectorate as adding to the risk associated with the borrowing.
“So what are we looking at here? We’re looking at a gambler’s budget. Each councillor needs to decide for themselves whether they’re gamblers,” he said.
In response, Cllr David Evans (Con, Hurley and Walthams), accused Cllr Werner of attempting to ‘get a cheap headline’, adding ‘no doubt it’ll be in the Advertiser that we’re a bunch of gamblers – far from it’.
He said: “If you go down the line of people who are on this cabinet, many of us have had responsible careers and jobs in business.”
Cllr Geoff Hill (Ind Con, Oldfield), who now sits with NTA, described it as a ‘deplorable way’ to run the Royal Borough’s finances.
“This budget is predicated on massive debt loading,” he said.
Council leader Simon Dudley said: “I’d like to say to people that the distinction is clear, what you face here – a good Conservative council, or socialism, high-tax socialism in the opposition from Not the Nine O’Clock News, or whatever they’re called.”
Referring to criticism about the sale of Maidenhead Golf Club, Cllr Dudley said the council had met with five national house-builders which believe the site ‘represents the most exciting opportunity in the South-east of England to develop much needed homes’.
Councillors voted 42 in favour of the budget, with Cllrs Malcolm Beer, Asghar Majeed and Jones abstaining and Cllrs Widsom Da Costa, Hill and Werner voting against. All six are part of NTA.
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