Conservative councillors pushed through Worthing Borough Council’s annual budget on Tuesday amid a fiery debate.
The Tories said their budget, which included a 2.96 per cent council tax rise, would provide the town with a ‘prosperous future’.
But their spending plans were not supported by the Liberal Democrats, who failed to secure more funds for community transport, while Labour took a stand against ‘unacceptable’ government cuts.
Council leader Dan Humphreys said: “This council is delivering change to the people of Worthing that they crave and this budget will support the range of efforts we have agreed over the past year to deliver quality services to our residents and to realise our potential for growth in Worthing’s economy.”
The Lib Dems called for an extra £20,000 for community transport, noting concerns over future funding of Dial a Ride. Cabinet members said a review of how the transport was funded would be considered in April. Funding was secure for the year, said councillor Val Turner.
Their amendment was heavily criticised by the ruling Tory group for being confusingly-worded and not being presented in advance.
Lib Dem leader Hazel Thorpe said: “For those of us with disposable income we have the choice to go out to a restaurant or pay a bit more to go to the theatre – which begs the question why in this continued time of austerity and cuts is this Conservative council still shoring up the theatres with yet more subsidy – prioritising £1.5million for the benefit of the privileged few.”
Labour’s Beccy Cooper abstained in the budget vote, passed by 27 votes to two. UKIP joined the administration in supporting the budget.
Reflecting the pressure the council was under through government funding cuts, she said: “My vote tonight is going to reflect the unfairness of this current system rather than the specific resolution. I can’t support making the people of Worthing pay more and not get any real improvement in services.”
Councillor Paul Yallop praised officers for setting a balanced budget without ‘political dynamite’ ideas of previous years, such as shutting the museum.
Mr Humphreys’ reply to Labour prompted outbursts from the public gallery as he criticised the party’s national record, including the deficit.
He attacked the opposition parties for having a ‘brass neck’ in its responses to the budget.
Addressing Dr Cooper, he said: “Others have reminded you which party left that massive deficit and which party it was whose chief secretary to the Treasury left behind a note in 2010 saying ‘I’m sorry there’s no money left’.”
Raising his voice, he added: “And now, after your chief secretary to the Treasury left that note to the nation you complain of the cuts. Amazing.”
The budget includes £1.12million to maintain and improve football pitches, open spaces and play areas.
A £2million sum to help provide affordable housing, in addition to a £10million loan to Worthing Homes, was also announced.
A head of major projects role has been created to help manage the council’s investment portfolio, while the council has purchased Union Place, in Worthing Town Centre, for £3.5million and is progressing with demolition of Teville Gate’s car park in a bid to kick-start regeneration.