DUDLEY councillors heard a mixed bag of opinions during their 2024 budget debate as politicians traded blows on spending.

The ruling Conservative group tried to present positive news on achievement and aspiration while opposition councillors accused the administration of failing to see problems on the horizon.

The final budget debate before May’s crucial all-out council elections also, at times, descended into name-calling.

Here is a round up of the good, the bad and the ugly from the meeting at Dudley Council House on Monday March 4.

Cabinet member for finance, Councillor Steve Clark, told councillors the extra millions the authority had been forced to spend on social care meant significantly reduced waiting lists and more than 500 extra people getting packages of care.

He also boasted the budget retained two hours free parking to ‘support towns and high streets’.

Cllr Clark pointed out an aspect of the council’s financial performance which he declared passed ‘almost without notice’.

He said: “This year Dudley Council was in the top ten percent of local authorities as at December 2023 to have their accounts signed off by the auditors.

“Having accurate accounts means that we know where we stand.”

Councillor Ruth Buttery, cabinet member for children’s services, highlighted investment in services like the family safeguarding programme.

Cllr Buttery said: “This is now delivering, with more families supported earlier so that they don’t go into crisis.”

Cllr Clark said the council remained committed to regeneration and highlighted progress with work on the Dudley Interchange and Metro.

He added: “Dudley is undergoing its most ambitious regeneration in decades.”

In response, Labour’s finance spokesman, Councillor Shaukat Ali, accused the Tories of not understanding the basics and described the situation as critical.

Cllr Ali hit out at the council’s commercial activity, claiming the council had lost around £7m on money-making projects while there was a risk of having to write off £2m in loans.

He identified a spend of £15,000 on hiring two quad bikes to tackle weeds before adding  “only to find out they are now tied up into a contract that cannot be terminated until 2025 despite them trying”.

Cllr Ali also slammed spending on plans for regeneration in Dudley town centre.

He said: “£2m on the failed Cavendish House regeneration design and development competition, lining the pockets of the consultants who have proposed a housing scheme that lacks the vision and ambition our town deserves.”

Councillor Ryan Priest for the Lib Dems also attacked spending, he said: “This administration points to unavoidable costs last year when there has been so much pointless spending and waste; the needless spend on the demolition of Dudley Hippodrome and the £400,000 trip to the south of France.”

No big council debate would be complete without politicians trading insults.

Labour leader, Councillor Pete Lowe, delivered a damning verdict on cabinet member for finance, branding him ‘Calamity Clark’.

The Tories took aim at Cllr Ali, council leader, Cllr Patrick Harley, dismissed his speech as ‘garbage’ and a cure for insomnia while Cllr Clark accused him of not turning up at meetings, calling him ‘no-show Shaukat’.