Redbridge Council’s budget: Transforming the borough or an unparalleled spending binge?

Leader of the Tories Cllr Paul Canal, left, and leader of the council Cllr Jas Athwal, right, traded

Leader of the Tories Cllr Paul Canal, left, and leader of the council Cllr Jas Athwal, right, traded blows over the proposals to transfer Redbridge Music Service and Redbridge Drama Centre to Vision. - Credit: Archant

A budget that will see Redbridge Council save £30.3million in “transformations” by 2022 was branded “fiscal incontinence” by the opposition last night.

Both sides of the chamber accepted cuts would have to be made, with a number of Labour members blaming the Conservative government for slashing central funding and demanding the council makes extensive savings over the next five years.

Opposition leader Cllr Paul Canal (Con, Bridge), condemned plans to raise council tax 4.99 per cent as a result of the social care precept, at Redbridge Town Hall, Ilford.

He was highly critical of the council’s recent corporate restructure, which he said had cost £1m in redundancy payments.

Slashing council tax benefits for single parents and targeting children with Special Educational Needs was also unacceptable, he declared.

But council leader Cllr Jas Athwal said each of the administration’s three budgets had been met by the same claims from the opposition, and each time their arguments had been poorly thought out.

“Mr Mayor, you know my German Shepherd. He only has to be told twice,” Cllr Athwal (Lab, Mayfield) quipped.

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“We must transform, we must invest and we must become more efficient, while we must also become more effective at meeting the ever-increasing demand from our residents.

“Agree this budget so we can continue to secure a good deal for the future of this borough and save us from the brink.”

Cllr Canal did admit there were some areas, such as the protection of school funding, that he agreed with.

But he then launched a scathing attack on what he described as “a spending binge of unparalleled excess” on items such as a fifth swimming pool, at the cost of £5.5m.

“Labour running our finances is like a crack addict running a pharmacy,” he told the meeting.

“They’re addicted to borrowing. They’re addicted to spending. And they are addicted to incompetence.”

Cllr Kam Rai (Goodmayes, Lab), cabinet member for finance and support services, took issue with this.

“Our capital programme has been designed to be ambitious, and what I’ve heard from the opposition tonight has been disappointing,” he retorted.

The finance chief stated the fact Conservative amendments had been presented the day of the meeting meant they could not be reasonably considered and indicated the group did not have any workable ideas.

Cllr Linda Huggett (Con, Monkham) did make a pledge that, should her group win next year’s election, they would bring back free green waste collection – something that residents will now be charged £50 for under this budget.

All of the Labour motions were carried during the meeting. The Conservatives’ amendments were defeated.