Wakefield Conservatives call for free parking as shadow budget unveiled
Free parking, less frequent local elections and a slash in cash for trade unions have all been proposed in a 'shadow budget' unveiled by Wakefield's opposition Conservative group.
The Tories, who hold 11 of Wakefield Council's 63 seats, have unveiled a shadow budget in response to the ruling Labour party's own plans for the next financial year.
The opposition is proposing an investment of £275,000 to fund two hours worth of free parking a day in Wakefield city centre, and town centres in the district.
They've suggested a similar amount be put aside for road maintenance, which they say would fund the repairing of an extra 5,000 potholes.
More money for foster carers is being proposed, and the Conservatives also want to expand the blue badge scheme to those with "hidden disabilities".
To balance the extra expenditure, they're arguing for the council to accelerate its declining investment in the Hepworth Gallery and to remove funding for trade union representatives.
The Tories' group leader, Nadeem Ahmed, is also calling for "all out" local elections to be held every four years instead of its current rate of three years out of every four. He says this would £118,000 per year from the corporate services budget.
Coun Ahmed, who was criticised by Labour last year for not producing an alternative budget, claimed his proposals highlighted the priorities of voters.
He said: "This plan takes action on the issues Labour have ignored.
"It's an ambitious, forward-looking, compassionate and costed plan that delivers on residents' concerns."
Coun Ahmed said offering free parking would help give town centres in the district a boost.
He added: "I've got to be honest, I very rarely go into the city centre.
"One of the reasons people go to Meadowhall (in Sheffield) and places like that is because of free parking.
"We tested the idea online and the feedback we got on that was overwhelmingly positive.
"Our plans would have no effect on frontline services and they would protect jobs."
The Conservative leader said he was opposed to the rise in council tax proposed by the ruling group and called for some of the authority's £94million reserves to be ploughed into the frontline.
Labour councillors have consistently argued that tax hikes are necessary to fund services because of austerity measures imposed by Tory-led governments on local authorities.
Coun Ahmed said he stood by the policy.
He added: "I think a period of reflection and cutting back on services was right. I think those decisions had to be taken at that time. But it can't go on endlessly and I think it is coming to an end now.
"I'm a Tory and I want to see people keep more of their money in their pockets."
Both parties will debate the budget at a full council meeting next week.