Crawley budget and council tax rise approved

Council tax bills from Crawley Borough Council will rise to £203.94 in April – an increase of 2.49 per cent.

Crawley Town Hall
Crawley Town Hall

The rise – the equivalent of 9p per week on a Band D home – was approved at a meeting of the full council along with a budget of £14.23m.

With Sussex Police announcing a rise of £24, and West Sussex County Council’s bill going up by more than £65, the average council tax demand will be around £95 a year higher.

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Presenting the budget to his fellow councillors, leader Peter Lamb (Lab, Northgate) said the same amount of money was being put into local services now as when he took office five years ago.

He added: “We’ve proven that there is an alternative to the cuts that we were told were an absolute necessity. We’ve delivered it without depending upon council tax.

“It would be easy for people to claim that this is all through a council tax hike and yet, when you look at the council tax we’re sending forward, it’s roughly a real terms freeze.”

The budget contained  £1.25m of savings, including £645,000 that was found by re-tendering a number of contracts, including a cleaning contract.

Duncan Crow, leader of the Conservatives, pointed out that his party had made £8m of savings when they controlled the council and said the Labour group was ‘basking in the golden legacy of what we left them’.

Accusing the council of never having to have made a difficult financial decision, he added: “There isn’t anything in this budget that I can object to but you could have been a little bit more ambitious in making savings in order to reduce the need in future years.

“We are in very uncertain times. Never mind Brexit, the biggest threat to this council’s future finances is a Corbyn government.

“So we need more ambition for meeting financial challenges now, not just kicking the can down the road.”

Both parties tabled amendments to the budget, and both centred around the need to set up a reserve of money to help the homeless.

The Labour amendment also included an extra £1m for investment properties, which was put forward on the advice of council officers.

Mr Lamb said: “The categories of buildings which we previously were invested in – which we’ve done very well out of, generating significant returns that have gone into providing the local services and maintaining local services – those categories of building are no longer so readily available.

“By increasing the amount of money in that pool, we’re attracting a different category of investment, which should be able to continue to deliver this council’s financial future.”

No figures were provided for the proposed supported accommodation reserve, and Mr Lamb said he had ‘left this to the last minute to bring in’ to give West Sussex County Council ‘every opportunity to do the right thing when it came down to maintaining homelessness provision’.

In its own budget, the county council approved a cut of £1.7m from the £6.3m housing related support budget, which affects homelessness charities such as Crawley Open House.

Another £2.3m cut has been lined up for next year.

Mr Lamb said of the reserve: “This is not to be used as a slush fund to make up for strategic errors made at West Sussex County Council.

“What it will do is enable us to have the resources we need this year to step into the breach if the worst happens.

“I told the community before that I would not let Open House close – 15,000 residents almost across West Sussex stepped forward to say they agreed with that decision.

“But we can’t make up the gap for all of the services that may crack from this. We can’t make up the gap of a £6m budget when we’re a council of only £14m expenditure.

“We need West Sussex to work with us and not simply demand that we top up their income.”

Mr Crow said: “We all know that upper-tier authorities are under much greater pressure for the statutory services they have to provide.

“Whether it’s adult social care or children’s services, the amounts needed and the amounts being spent are going up.

“And this is why the county council is having to reduce the amount of its effective subsidy to district and borough councils.

“But it’s very important that they will be meeting their statutory obligations to vulnerable adults and this council needs to meet its statutory obligations around homelessness.”

The Labour amendment was approved while the Conservative amendment was defeated.