‘Armageddon’ in Gloucester has been avoided despite cuts of £3.5million pushed through by city councillors tonight.
The cuts were made at the annual budget meeting of Gloucester City Council.
Councillor Paul James, leader of the city council, said: “The doom-mongers who prophesied a few years ago that the Guildhall and the leisure centre would close, that the standards of service would slip and there would be Armageddon have been proved wrong. Those who repeat those claims this year will be proved wrong.”
Savage cuts to grants for the voluntary sector and Aspire, the organisation which runs GL1 and Oxstalls Tennis Centre, have been scaled back but there was still widespread concern that even the new levels of cuts would leave people redundant and vital services under threat of closure.
The main cuts include:
- £100,000 to voluntary sector grants
- £50,000 cut for markets service
- £150,000 cut to the Guildhall
- £300,000 cut to Aspire, who run GL1 and Oxstalls
Despite this, Mr James painted a positive outlook but admitted the job was ‘not yet done’.
He said: “This is the first time for quite a number of years when I have been able to present a budget against the backdrop of an improving economy, with the recovery now starting to take hold and confidence returning.
“There is much more to do in our city and we can look forward to the year ahead with confidence.”
Over the next year, the city council’s priorities will be:
- Progressing the King’s Quarter scheme, including funding bids for a new bus station
- Implementing projects paid for using a £2million City Centre Investment Fund, including the cladding of ugly buildings, improving car parks and transforming the City Museum
- Supporting another ‘great year of events’ with the return of The Crucible to the Cathedral
- A new £1,000 fund for each councillor to spend in their own wards
The council has already saved £7.5million over the past four years but there will be cuts of £1.83million this year, £1.5million in 2015 and further savings in 2016.
Councillor Fred Wood, cabinet member for resources, said: “We will not shy away from taking difficult decisions. We are facing the toughest financial outlook for several decades.”
But there was some good news for taxpayers - council tax will be frozen once again.
Councillor Kate Haigh, leader of the Labour group, attacked the freeze saying the administration had ‘chosen to ignore’ 67 per cent of people who said they would support a council tax rise as part of a consultation exercise. Her group abstained on a vote to freeze council tax.
The Labour group also proposed:
- Reducing the level of cuts to Aspire and voluntary groups
- Relocating the tourist information centre into the City Museum, saving £50,000 per year
- Scrapping charges for the museums to get more people through the doors
- Reducing budget cuts at Gloucester Guildhall
All the proposals were rejected by Conservative councillors, while Liberal Democrats councillors abstained in a vote.
Councillor Jeremy Hilton, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, supported the council tax freeze and also proposed:
- Spending £100,000 on fitting out an empty retail unit as new public toilets
- Spend £10,000 on a study into preparing an application for UNESCO World Heritage Status for Gloucester Cathedral
- Exploring the introduction of a ‘local levy’ on out-of-town businesses to support the city centre
All the Liberal Democrat amendments were backed by the Conservative administration leading to Labour councillor Nick Durrant’s accusations of a ‘nasty, shabby little deal’ between the two parties. Mr Hilton admitted he had met his opposite number Mr James in private to agree on his amendments. Mr Hilton then led his group in their abstentions against every Labour amendment.