Yes or no - should Torbay Council Tax have to pay more?

Pretty illuminated harbor and promenade in Torquay, Devon

Councillors in Torbay have been at loggerheads over any increase to Council Tax. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

To raise or not to raise. That is the question which has had councillors at loggerheads in the Torbay Council chamber.

The coaltiion of Liberal Democrats and Independents now running the show at the town hall have voted to increase tax by 4.99 per cent for the coming year - 1.99 per cent to cover the basic levy topped up by another three per cent to cover adult social care.

The opposition Conservatives wanted to freeze the basic tax.

Here, former Tory mayor Nick Bye and current deputy leader Darren Cowell, the councillor also in charge of the council's purse strings, battle it out - at least in words!

YES

Torbay Council has recently voted on the budget for 2021-2022 which includes spending in areas that the council has been unable to do so for many years.

I was hugely disappointed that the opposition Conservative group, while complaining about the lack of spending in areas such as illuminations, park lighting and benches, yellow and white lines, harbour railings and other such matters, failed to support our plans to start to reinvest in the amenities so valued by residents.

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So what did they do when it came to a vote? They voted against:

  • £150,000 to support community bus services – the first time the council has provided such support since the Tory dominated council scrapped bus subsidies
  • £2.1m for adult social care – to support many of our most vulnerable who were abandoned by the scrapping of the Supporting People budget by the former Conservative mayor
  • £300,000 hardship fund to support residents
  • £50,000 to replace illuminations in Paignton
  • £150,000 to invest in planting new trees, including a new tree warden scheme
  • £500,000 to support a post-Covid economic recovery
  • £250,000 to boost regeneration schemes in our town centres
  • £150,000 to dredge Brixham Harbour – securing the future of larger vessels operating out of the harbour
  • £65,000 for sports
  • freezing car parking charges.

Much of the spending we are planning is achieved by reducing the budget for children's services, left to run out of control by previous Tory-dominated councils.

As an administration we also have to plan for the future, so to be prudent and responsible we have topped up the reserves as well as provided for the expected £5m shortfall in income from council tax and business rates.

Our budget responded to the many conversations with residents, partners and community groups and reflects the challenge that the Chancellor only gave councils one year visibility of our funding.

All in all we believe the budget will enable us to respond to the ongoing challenges of Covid while at the same time continue to invest in our communities and in amenities that residents most often ask for.

This budget is about planning for the future while investing in today.

Finally, since the budget we have also announced a new £54,000 Ward Community Fund which will allow councillors to work in partnership with their communities to identify community based projects that are the priorities of local residents.

The Ward Community Fund will give those opposition councillors the chance to work in partnership with their Community Partnership to start putting right the years of Tory neglect.

Cllr Darren Cowell - deputy leader of Torbay Council and Cabinet member for finance

Cllr Darren Cowell - deputy leader of Torbay Council and Cabinet member for finance - Credit: Torbay Council

Cllr Darren Cowell - deputy leader of Torbay Council and Cabinet member for finance

NO

Three things to get off my chest this month, so here goes: 

First, Torbay Council’s budget for 2021/22. I am simply astonished there has not been more upset over this given it seems to me to be a triple blow for the people of Torbay. 

James O’Dwyer and I supported the Conservative group’s objection at the February 11 council meeting but the Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors won the day. 

There is never a right time for a five per cent tax rise but when inflation is running at a fraction of this level then it is completely out of order.  

The Council Tax bill for my modest Band C flat will be about £2,000; not much less than the value of my car! 

For many people it will be no laughing matter, especially those on fixed incomes or worrying about their jobs and businesses. 

What is extraordinary is this increase is coming when the council is predicting a budget underspend in the current year in excess of £7 million.  

With savings found in children’s services and more money from Government than it has so far spent, the council is putting this sum and more into reserves for the proverbial ‘rainy day’. 

You don’t have to be a descendant of John Maynard Keynes to question the wisdom of this and to courteously suggest as we are still enduring this awful pandemic as well as the worst economic slump for 100 years then perhaps this is a rainy day and it’s coming down cats and dogs. 

This rather backs up one senior councillor’s alleged comment there is money ‘sloshing around’ in the town hall which makes me angry and wonder why the railings by Living Coasts can’t be painted; likewise the beach huts at Meadfoot beach; or else the railings repaired at Peaked Tor Cove which is now off limits; or the quagmire sorted at Daddyhole Plain or the lights fixed in Torwood Gardens?  

Many residents have noted the poor state of some of our roads. We are still battling to get a traffic order to outlaw overnight parking by Meadfoot beach and on the Marine Drive. The list goes on. 

So a triple blow for the people of Torbay: a five per cent tax rise when it can be least afforded; millions going into reserves at a time when spending would give the local economy a useful boost; and all sorts of jobs not done which make residents – and yours truly – so frustrated. 
 

Nick Bye - councillor for Wellswood, Torbay Council 

Nick Bye - councillor for Wellswood, Torbay Council - Credit: Torbay Council

Nick Bye - councillor for Wellswood, Torbay Council