Councillors lock horns over cuts

Council leader Marie Rimmer
Council leader Marie Rimmer

TOWN Hall chiefs unanimously approved a budget plan last week which will see council tax cut by 0.5 per cent.

But during an impassioned debate in the town hall chamber councillors from across the political divide rallied against the cuts being imposed on the council.

Council leader Marie Rimmer attacked the coalition government for imposing yet more cuts to squeeze the council’s coffers.

“I propose this budget in the face of the most fundamental changes in council revenues in a generation,” she told councillors.

“People in St Helens are being used to fund the economic shambles that the Chancellor likes to call ‘Plan A’.

“Mr Osborne’s failed policies have caused a massive reduction in our grant. This council has already lost 1,034 jobs - that’s more than a fifth of non-school jobs - and has now lost £50m in revenue grants since 2010.

“Many tough decisions have had to be made but I’m confident that they are the right ones and will protect our most vulnerable residents. None were made unless absolutely necessary.”

Deputy council leader Barrie Grunewald added: “This Government has launched an unprecedented attack on St Helens and our public finances and will leave a legacy of damage on our communities. But we have produced a budget with fairness at its heart.”

Among the bright spots of the budget was the approval of a two-year “invest to save” project which gave the go-ahead for £5m worth of highway maintenance work.

Coun Rimmer argued this would not only improve St Helens’ road network, but reduce the cost of reactive maintenance.

A further £1.7m is set to be invested in energy efficient street lighting to reduce the council’s electricity bill, and £500,000 will be pledged to local graduate and apprenticeship placement schemes.

Local Lib Dem leader Steph Topping admitted there was no point trying to defend the cuts, but argued that the UK’s financial crisis was sparked under Labour.

She added: “I’m quite proud to see the Pupil Premium - a Lib Dem policy - going up by 45 per cent..”

Tory councillor Allan Jones said there was no point in arguing over who was to blame for the country’s financial malaise.

He added: “It doesn’t matter who you blame - this government, the last government or the bankers. There are some very good points in this budget and my party have no problem supporting it.”

g Tributes to ex-councillor Pat Martinez-Williams - page 23.