The credibility of Labour’s financial management of Luton Council is in doubt once again this week after a Council Scrutiny Committee passed a reference to the Labour Executive noting that the projected £5.5 million underspend this year could have paid for the latest Council Tax hike five times over. Officers confirmed the figure at a meeting on Monday.
In a second blow to Labour’s financial strategy, the dedicated ‘Finance Review Group’ noted that had the Government’s Freeze grant been accepted, a combination of this money and the £5.5M underspend would have funded Labour’s latest Council Tax rise for over 7 years.
Labour bosses had already faced heated challenges from opposition Liberal Democrats for rejecting Government money for a second year in a row, to instead charge residents more. Now, despite their 24-seat majority on the Council, they face the embarrassment of an evidenced recommendation outlining the facts they have disputed.
Martin Pantling, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on the Council, said:
“ Labour can spin all they like, but they can’t hide the truth. Despite underspending by five and a half million pounds this year, they have still decided to make local residents pay an extra £1.1 million this year, next year and every year from now on.”
“ This might be acceptable if they were using any of the money to protect services. But they’re not. The extra tax residents will pay as a result of Labour turning down Government money is going straight into Council coffers. They are piling up millions of pounds more each year in reserves while cutting Street Cleaning, reducing Hot Food Take Away inspections, slashing Libraries, and introducing Bulky Waste Fees that are bound to result in a huge rise in Flytipping, and effectively amount to a Dumper’s Charter.”
Asked if the reference was just a matter of Labour being outvoted, Councillor Pantling said :
“ The fact the recommendation was passed shows two things – that officers confirmed the underspend could have funded the tax rise 5 times over ; and that despite Labour having 36 councillors, only two bothered to attend, despite the ability to send deputies. They fail to turn up to the Group scrutinising the Council’s finances on a regular basis. I wonder why? ”