Hertfordshire County Council has agreed budget plans that councillors hope will make the county cleaner, greener and healthier.
They include increases in spending to support the growing number of older and disabled residents, ‘looked after’ children and families experiencing domestic abuse.
They also include plans to invest £15m in sustainability and carbon reduction measures, to help the council meet its climate change ambitions.
And £18m will be allocated to care providers, which the budget says should enable the wages of the lowest paid care staff to be increased to £10.30 an hour.
The proposals – drawn up by the council’s Conservative administration – have been subject to five weeks of scrutiny by the public, focus groups and councillors.
And on Tuesday (February 22) they were agreed – by a majority vote – at a meeting of the full council.
Executive member for resources and performance Cllr Bob Deering told a meeting of the full council that they were investing ‘to improve quality of life for residents in Hertfordshire’ – and that this was ‘an excellent budget of which we can all be proud’.
“We want our community to continue to be a place where our people thrive, where places prosper and the planet is protected,” he said.
“The budget today sets those objectives.”
Included in the budget are plans to increase the county council share of the council tax by 3.99 per cent – including the two per cent that would be ring-fenced for adult social care.
And for a typical Band D property, said Cllr Deering, this would be equivalent to an increase of around £1.13 a week.
Cllr Deering told councillors that they were presenting a budget that included £60m of investment and was balanced for the next two years – which he said he believed was ‘unheralded’.
Cllr Sally Symington put forward Liberal Democrat plans to increase spending on highways flooding issues by £1m, to put £750,000 into ‘tackling inequality’, £1.29m into additional mental health support in schools and £600,000 to expand the trial of demand responsive transport.
Those alternative plans also included £4.2m plans for free school meal support during the holidays for families in receipt of Universal Credit – and a new school uniform subsidy for low income families.
They included a £607,000 further investment in adult care staff that would increase the wages of the lowest paid care staff to £10.50 – compared to the £10.30 funded in the Conservative proposals.
The additional spending she said would be funded largely from £6.23m redirected from the ‘settlement and collection fund surplus’ and from the council’s ‘Invest to Transform’ fund.
Meanwhile Cllr Sharon Taylor put forward Labour’s alternative plans that included £1m to support food banks and community initiatives to tackle food poverty – and £829k to reverse previous cuts to youth services and Youth Connexions.
They included £2m to increase funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), £250k for school advisors and mental health counsellors and £10k to have a ‘youth chairman’ of the county council.
They called for cycleway and footway improvements, restoration of street lighting where requested, funding for air pollution hot spots – and £560k to restore 6-day opening to all recycling sites.
And they earmarked £50k to look at violence against women and girls, £75k for gambling harm and £150k for a project looking at knife and gang crime.
In addition they proposed £55k to exempt care leavers from paying council tax until they reached the age of 21,
They suggested £100k be allocated to look at the feasibility of delivering an ‘in-house’ adult care service, £100k to run a carers commission to determine the needs of unpaid carers, £100k for domestic abuse safe spaces (that would be set up with £3m of capital spend) and £150k to expand the provision of the council’s money advice unit.
Cllr Nigel Bell said the Labour amendments were ‘realistic’, ‘officer-costed ‘ and took account of more of the most vulnerable residents at this difficult time.
At the meeting, the majority of the council backed the Conservative proposals.
Neither the Liberal Democrat nor Labour amendments were agreed.
Backing the proposals before the vote, council leader Cllr Richard Roberts said the budget would reduce inequalities, build on inclusivity and maximise diversity.
He said they wanted Hertfordshire to thrive, to be a county of opportunity – with a sustainable future for its 1.2m residents and 58,000 businesses, where a sustainable future would be cleaner, greener and healthier.
He stressed that despite the council’s revenue budget totalling £945m, opposition parties had put forward amendments relating to small figures of millions.
And therefore he suggested that they agreed to a large extent of the Conservative budget.
He also pointed to the reliance on the alternative budget proposals on selling-off county council land – whereas he said they believed in developing that land to meet future need.
The county council operates a range of services including social services, education, waste disposal, highways maintenance, public health and even the fire and rescue service. And in 2022/23 it will have an annual revenue budget of £947m.