Labour-led Milton Keynes Council has released its proposal on how it will balance its budget next year and fill a £15m funding gap left by the Conservative government.
Extra funding is being found to invest in supporting people, with welfare and job support schemes to be announced over the next few weeks, as well extra funding to tackle climate change, crime, graffiti and potholes.
It will use council reserves to balance the budget this year, rather than cut services, until the money it takes in from council tax, business rates and parking income recovers.
The council has also sprung a surprise by only increasing council tax by 2.5%, the lowest rise in 5 years. Council tax for a Band D property in Milton Keynes is lowest in the South Midlands area. The government have said they expect councils to increase council tax by 5% this year however, Milton Keynes is expected to have one of the lowest council tax increases in the country.
Spending will be cut by over £9m, with the biggest saving being a reduction of over £1m to replace bus subsidies with demand responsive transport, already agreed by Cabinet in November this year.
However, most services will remain untouched as the Labour administration uses reserves to cover the funding shortfall in an effort to save services. By using reserves the council have been able to reject the option of cuts to libraries, day care services and funding to charities and cultural organisations.
Around £3m will be used which would not have been available to the council had they accepted proposals from the Conservatives to spend over £5m of reserves over the last three years.
The proposals are published today, and a consultation will run until early February.
Cllr Peter Marland, Leader of Milton Keynes Council, said: “Labour-led Milton Keynes Council are putting forward a budget that protects and invests in our services, in our local economy and helps the most vulnerable. It is a caring over cutting budget.”
He continued: “I am not ashamed to say that we are using reserves to balance the books to stop horrific cuts to services. Covid-19 and a decade of cuts by the Conservatives have left us with a £15m hole in the budget next year. We were already at breaking point before the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite promises they made to “do whatever it takes,” the government has let the people of Milton Keynes down. Yes, they have provided some cash, but even after all that is taken into account, we have a £15m gap.
We have spent years properly and prudently managing our budget and defending our stance to protect reserves for a rainy day. Now the time has come to use those emergency reserves during a crisis rather than cut vital services. Had we spent the £5m from reserves that the MK Conservatives wanted us to, such as nearly half a million on testing free parking, we’d now be talking about major cuts to services that people in MK rely on.”
He concluded: “MK Labour will not balance the budget on the backs of the poor or hardworking people this year. The government want us to put up council tax by 5%. We won’t. They want us to cut services to break even. We won’t. We are taking a very prudent but calculated view that our income will recover over time, rather than destroy our services. Over the next few weeks we will also be announcing further measures to help families financially, support our economy and tackle climate change.”