WOKINGHAM Borough Council’s Tory finance leader has branded the Liberal Democrats’ budget proposals a ‘political stunt’ as they put forward some last-minute alternatives.
The full council rubber-stamped the budget for 2014/15 last Thursday, including a 1.9% increase in council tax.
The Liberal Democrat group, headed by leader Cllr Prue Bray, support a 0% rise in council tax.
It proposed taking advantage of the Council Tax Freeze Grant, a fund set up by central government for any councils freezing council tax. The Lib Dems claim this equates to a 1% increase in council tax. They would use council reserves of £530,000 to make up the shortfall to fund a freeze on council tax for residents.
But Cllr Anthony Pollock, exeutive member for finance on the council’s Conservative-run administration, branded it a “political stunt”.
He said: “If you take £530,000 from the reserves you still have to save that amount, and you have to fund the £800,000 that the government has given in the future.” Cllr Pollock added reserves are needed for dealing with exceptional situations, such as the flooding.
The Lib Dems’ alternative proposal included a five point plan for regenerating Wokingham: - Improving the green space at Elms Field, part of which the Tory-run council wants to develop - Replacing plans for a supermarket on Elms Field as part of the regeneration with a ‘dark store’ – a warehouse for online supermarket shopping, - Building a hotel near Carnival Pool - Only building new housing on brownfield land - Building a ‘virtual’ town centre, nicknamed ‘The Hub’.
The Lib Dems want to tap into the region’s IT skills to create an online shopping portal. Cllr Bray said: “We want to lead the way – high street shops are no longer the future.
“We need to help some businesses with their online presence as people primarily shop on the internet now. Retail sales have gone up but it’s all happening online.” The hub would be complemented by an community internet cafe, which would serve as a ‘click and collect’ service.
The council’s ruling Tory group voted against the Lib Dem’s plans.