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BCP Council Tories 'out of control' on budget plan, claim Liberal Democrats

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THE leader of BCP Council was accused by a Christchurch councillor of acting like “Billy Big Balls” over his administration’s approach to budgeting.

The claim was made during a meeting by Liberal Democrat Cllr Mike Cox – prompting Conservative boss Cllr Drew Mellor to respond by calling his accountant opponent a "book-keeper”, writes Trevor Bevins of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The criticism of the budget process was backed by former council leader Cllr Vikki Slade who said the ruling Tories' strategy seemed to be “it’ll be alright on the night”. She called for further details about proposals to tackle the predicted shortfall.

BCP leader Cllr Drew Mellor
BCP leader Cllr Drew Mellor

Both councillors shared puzzlement about how the council would close the widening budget gap which Cllr Cox claimed had grown from £7.1m for a two-year period to a predicted £31.1m.

“It’s a hell of a jump and, frankly, shows a council out of control,” he said.

He said that if any of the council’s assumptions were wrong the authority could find itself in serious difficulties even with a predicted council tax rise of 4.99% for next year.

Cllr Mike Cox
Cllr Mike Cox

“You’re acting like Billy Big Balls and it’s absolute nonsense. Let’s ensure that future generations are not left paying for the current deficits,” he said, calling for a halt to all non-budgeted spending until the deficit is addressed.

But Cllr Mellor said he was confident his team would succeed in setting a balanced budget as it had done when delivering the second lowest council tax rise in the country while at the same time increasing investment in the area.

“We are crystal clear in our medium-term financial plan," he said.

Cllr Vikki Slade
Cllr Vikki Slade

"There will be opportunities to invest in schemes and utilise record low borrowing."

Cllr Mellor told the overview and scrutiny committee that BCP council was among those with very low borrowing levels, which it could afford to increase, and had reserves which could be used.

He said the authority remained committed to increasing spending on adult social care and children’s services and to providing more public housing and investment programmes across the area.

Cllr Mellor said the administration already had a track record of delivering its promises – turning a deficit last year into a £5m surplus and had not only reinstated a cut in the climate change budget but doubled it.

Cllr Slade told him she was seeing a bullish attitude but little detail about how the current £12.5m funding gap, predicted to double by next year, would be tackled.

A further review of the council’s spending plans is expected in December with next year’s budget to be agreed in February 2022.

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