Stockport residents will face a 3.5pc hike in council tax but also enjoy free Saturday parking after the council passed its budget for the next 12 months.
The town hall’s financial plan for the 2021/22 municipal year was approved by a majority vote at a remote meeting on Thursday night.
The Labour administration put forward what it described as its ‘Covid recovery budget’, including £10m for affordable housing, £2m to help businesses get back on their feet and one-off monies for digital inclusion, climate change and libraries.
However, the group accepted a Tory amendment for free Saturday parking across the borough as well as a further £300,000 investment in parks and open spaces.
While this sparked a rare outbreak of cross-party consensus, the Lib Dems plans to put more ‘power and money more under the control of local communities’ did not find similar support.
The proposal would have increased the delegated budgets available to area committees by £40k per ward.
Council leader Elise Wilson said the borough had come together to get through the pandemic and her group had ‘kept this sentiment firmly in mind’ when putting its budget together.
“I’m proud once again to put forward a budget that seeks to protect the most vulnerable and our frontline services as far as possible, builds upon our values and contends with the challenges of Covid,” she told the meeting
Coun Wilson added: “This budget priorities investment in the people of Stockport and the things that matter to them. It’s a budget for renewal and recovery - and it does so despite a £1.4m worth of saving reduction.”
She noted that the council had maintained a ‘healthy’ capital investment programme and the borough was set to see more affordable homes and continue with its ‘ambitious’ regeneration programme.
However, the Labour group was happy to accept a Tory amendment to the budget, proposing free Saturday parking across Stockport- including at Merseyway shopping centre - for one year.
Intended to boost small businesses and support the ‘shop local’ agenda, it is to be funded via £0.5m from reserves set up for Brexit contingency and planning which have not been used.
Neither did Labour oppose Conservative plans to spend an extra £300,000 on parks and green spaces using reserves and one-off monies.
Tory deputy leader Coun John McGahan, said his group was proposing a ‘limited amendment’ which would make a ‘tangible difference to residents’.
But he stressed this did not mean the Conservatives accepted the rest of the budget ‘uncritically’ and would be holding Labour to account over the coming year.
While relations between Labour and the Tories were relatively harmonious, this did not extend to the Lib Dems - as is often the case in Stockport.
Their proposal to give each area ward an extra £40,000 - by using the centralised Tackling Climate Change fund and some cash from reserves - was turned down by Labour, the Independent Ratepayers and the Tories (with the exception of Coun Tom Dowse).
Labour accused the Lib Dems of ‘plucking a figure out of the air’ and said equally dividing it across the wards, without taking need into account was ‘unfair’.
Meanwhile Tory leader Coun Mike Hurlestone said there was still ward funding left unspent, so he did not see the sense in funnelling more to area committees.
The rebuff left the group- the joint largest on the council - angry and incredulous.
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Coun Christine Corris said it was ‘absolute madness’ and asked councillors why they were ‘so afraid’ of giving more power and money to area committees.
“I can’t believe how small minded you are being,” she said.
“I give up.”
And there was real fury from Lib Dem leader Coun Mark Hunter, who branded Labour and the Tories an ‘unholy alliance’.
He rejected claims his group had ‘plucked a figure from the air’ - making the point that all amendments have to be signed off by finance officers - while his group argued that most ‘unspent’ area monies had been allocated.
Coun Hunter said: “Frankly, the most disappointing thing about the debate on this amendment has been the unmistakable sound of councillors - particularly in the Labour and Conservative parties - desperately flailing around for a reason to speak against something they don’t, perhaps, necessarily disagree with.
“Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s who is saying it and I’m afraid that’s increasingly the case here in Stockport.”
He added: “Sooner or later the people of Stockport, who we all represent in our different ways, will cotton on to what’s going on in this town hall and cotton on the unholy alliance [that] I’m afraid is still dictating to the rest of us the way things are going to be done in Stockport.”
Councillors also approved the One Stockport borough plan, the treasury management strategy and the housing revenue account budget.
The meeting was held on Thursday night (February 25).