Copeland council passes final budget

The budget for Copeland has been passed.

THE final budget of Copeland Borough Council, including a real terms cut to "the council tax burden", has been approved - but not without dissent from Labour.

The authority has met to discuss the leadership's proposed budget for 2022/23.

It is the council's final budget before it is replaced (along with Cumbria County Council and all district councils) by a new unitary authority - Cumberland Council.

Presenting his budget mayor Mike Starkie said the council has had its fair share of challenges whilst balancing the budget. Among them, Copeland Council is a £3m a year reduction in income after the Government's removal of the Revenue Support Grant for councils.

Mr Starkie said: "Despite that, for the seventh consecutive year we're on budget where there'll be no cuts whatsoever to services of Copeland Borough Council. We've actually kept the rising costs of crematorium fees below the inflation rate, which is a real terms cut."

The budget also contains the 1.95 per cent increase on council tax seen each year since 2016. Mr Starkie said that weighed against inflation this is also "a real terms cut".

He told councillors: "Another key area within the budget, as you're aware, is all of the councils across Cumbria are having to make a contribution to the cost of local government reorganisation. That contribution per council is £1.6m.

"We are the only council that won't be using reserves to make that contribution."

Copeland Council's three-year capital investment strategy includes a further £3,000 for the redevelopment and expansion of Leconfield Industrial Estate in Cleator Moor, which will see the development of a new business campus.

The council will continue to be a part of the Cumbria Business Rates pool and forecasts additional income of £100,000. Mr Starkie's budget included forward planning for a potential business rates appeal from Sellafield, something that has previously cost the council £30 million.

Mr Starkie said: "We've made five per cent provision every year while also maintaining a strong dialogue with Sellafield about their intentions."

The Labour group abstained on the vote to approve the mayor's budget. Their leader Michael McVeigh said: "Copeland Labour group cannot, in good conscience, vote for this budget. We will have no part in the continued mismanagement and deterioration of the finances under you, Mr Mayor. We will not give legitimacy or lend credence to this budget and the unelected Conservative mayor."

A report by CIPFA commissioned by Government was released last year calling on Copeland Council to set out how it would balance the budget to avoid bankruptcy.

Copeland Council in response has requested a £1.5 million capitalisation directive from Government and used its reserves to balance the budget.

"Copeland has still got three years of unaudited accounts. The CIPFA report is damning and the Mayor has had to go to the government and ask for extra money to balance his budget.

"The auditor has stated that there is a significant risk that the council is not able to make informed decisions in the budgeting and monitoring process."

Cllr McVeigh added: "Not only is this council on the verge of bankruptcy but the mayor is bankrupt of ideas."