Maximum tax rise approved amid angry scenes in council chamber

Council tax will go up almost 5% in Wakefield as the budget for 2024/25 was approved amid angry scenes in the city’s council chamber.
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Mayor Josie Pritchard brifely adjourned the financial debate at County Hall after an independent councillor said “scum” as he objected to a Labour opponent’s comments.

Denise Jeffery, leader of the Labour-run authority, accused the government of “taking a wrecking ball to economic security”.

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Councillors voted in favour of a maximum 2.99% rise in council tax, plus a further 2% increase in the adult social care levy.

County Hall in WakefieldCounty Hall in Wakefield
County Hall in Wakefield

Spending plans designed to plug a £33m funding gap for the next financial year were also approved.

Cuts include selling off Castleford Civic Centre and saving £3.5m by not replacing vacant council jobs.

Car parking charges are also likely to rise across the district to generate revenue.

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Outlining the proposals, Coun Jeffery said the district’s spending power had been reduced by £203m since 2010.

Wakefield Council leader Denise JefferyWakefield Council leader Denise Jeffery
Wakefield Council leader Denise Jeffery

She said: “We desperately need change in our country. The Labour Party is offering people that change.

“I fear that the Tories are intent on pursuing a scorched earth policy and that the profound problems an incoming Labour government would face might take some time to sort out.”

The tax increase is expected to raise an extra £8.7m for the council.

Bills will go up £1.05 per week for a band A property.

Andrew Balchin, Wakefield Council's chief executive.Andrew Balchin, Wakefield Council's chief executive.
Andrew Balchin, Wakefield Council's chief executive.
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Councillors were told 39p in every £1 spent by the council now goes on adult social care, with 27p going to supporting children.

Council tax in Wakefield remains the second lowest out of the five West Yorkshire local authorities.

Coun Jeffery added: “The difficult decisions we’ve taken over the years mean we’re better placed than most to ride out this storm.

“We’re constantly looking to change and improve.

Councillor Josie Pritchard Wakefield's mayor for 2023/24Councillor Josie Pritchard Wakefield's mayor for 2023/24
Councillor Josie Pritchard Wakefield's mayor for 2023/24

“That means we are here when residents need us.

“We will continue to invest where that’s right for the long-term.”

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A Conservative amendment calling for a council tax freeze, with just the adult social care levy to be imposed, was defeated.

Tory group leader Nadeem Ahmed accused Labour of wasting council resources and financial mismanagement.

He said: “This city and this leadership at the moment is asleep.

“There are excellent officers in the council probably doing the best they can.

Akef AkbarAkef Akbar
Akef Akbar

“But there is a political lack of will,

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“Due to a lack of strategy and vision, we don’t attract the inward investment that we should be attracting.”

No amendment was put forward by the Lib Dems.

Group leader Pete Girt told the meeting: “I chose not to. It would have taken me a bit of effort to write one.

“But let’s be straight about it, you guys (Labour) wouldn’t even have read it.

“I would have been wasting my time. This is just going to go through.

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“Anybody who thinks differently is living in cloud cuckoo land because of the numbers.”

Labour holds 49 of 63 council seats.

Coun Girt said he could not support the Tory amendment, which also proposed spending council reserves.

He added: “I’m not in the game of kicking the can down the road.”

Akef Akbar, independent councillor for Wakefield East ward, said: “We are in a time when mortgage rates have increased, energy bills have increased.

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“Do you really find it appropriate to increase council tax at this time?

“Do you guys across the chamber not have any shame?

“On behalf of my residents, I would like to say a sarcastic thank you for wasting the taxpayers’ money on vanity projects.

“Can somebody tell me why the taxpayer should pick up the bill for your incompetence and your mistakes?

“We should pull our fingers out and be more efficient.”

Later in the debate, Coun Akbar said “scum” as he raised a point of order when

Labour’s George Ayre spoke against the Tory amendment.

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The mayor adjourned the meeting when Coun Akbar refused to retract the comment.

She said: “I will not tolerate that language in this chamber while I am chairing this meeting.”

Before the start of the debate, Coun Pritchard urged councillors to treat each other with “mutual respect”.

Chief executive Andrew Balchin addressed councillors after the mayor left the chamber.

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He said: “I know that feelings are pretty high about the nature of some of the comments that have been made.

“But we need to conclude some important business.

“Not just for you, but for the people outside this room.

“Our residents deserve to have a decision made today. That decision is going to affect all of their lives.

“I would invite any councillors who have concerns about comments or behaviour today to meet with me.

“I will listen earnestly to what is being said.

“I will work with every single one of this council to make sure that we can do our business with respect in future.”