DUDLEY Council has approved a plan to slash spending by £34m over the next three years.
During a highly charged budget meeting of the full council on March 3, councillors clashed over cuts which could lead to up to 40 compulsory redundancies amid predictions a further £23m will have to be saved.
However in a bid to ease the pain the council’s cabinet member for finance, cllr Pete Lowe, also announced a council tax freeze for Dudley borough after the authority opted to accept a £1.1m grant from central government.
Cllr Lowe said: “Dudley is a low spending, low taxing council. This year, based on our proposals and those going before other councils, we expect to be setting the lowest council tax in the West Midlands and one of the lowest in the country.”
The latest cuts come in the wake of £42m saved over the last three years. The Labour controlled authority says they have no choice to make the savings after reductions in payouts from the Conservative-led coalition in Westminster.
Cllr Lowe told councillors although changes to the system made comparisons difficult, he believed the authority will see a reduction in government grants from £196m in 2010/11 to £133m in 2015/16.
The meeting, which was interrupted a number of times by heckling from the public galley, was told by Cllr Lowe’s Tory counterpart, cllr Tim Wright, that his side supported the council tax freeze but rejected the budget as a whole.
Cllr Wright said: “This is the budget of missed opportunity. What this council needs are policies that deliver a modern not archaic way of delivering services, a way other than cutting services yet increasing charges.
“Our way would be to change some of the methods of service delivery and create revenue streams.”
The council’s Conservative group leader, cllr Patrick Harley, said his group had supported last year’s budget on condition services would be reformed or handed over to the private sector but he believed no progress had been made.
Cllr Harley said: “If we do not accept change is needed then by 2016/17 there will be very little left to cut.”
UKIP’s cllr Ken Turner proposed a number of measures he said offered a better alternative “slash and burn” budgets.
His proposals include more business integration with councils, a cross-party finance scrutiny committee, free town centre parking, the removal of a number of councillor’s allowances and the investment of a portion of government grants for housing in the installation of solar panels on pensioners’ bungalows to provide free energy.