Cuts to children’s services have been delayed after council chiefs in Bath promised to protect frontline services.
Bath and North East Somerset Council last night voted to freeze council tax for a third year and committed itself to £3 million worth of cuts over the next 12 months.
The freeze means the B&NES share of the council tax for a Band D property will remain at £1,201.85.
Initial proposals to cut the early years and children’s centres budget by nearly 40 per cent over the next three years were shelved by the Liberal Democrat leadership after Labour councillors said they would only support the overall budget if money from the council’s reserves and the Government’s New Homes Bonus was used to defer the decision until next year.
Labour councillor for Paulton Liz Hardman said: “It was almost impossible to believe that the council wanted to target its largest budget cuts on the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community.”
The council said changes to government funding were forcing it to make £30 million worth of savings over the next three years.
B&NES will now push ahead with plans to introduce admission charges for touring exhibitions at the Victoria Art Gallery, a reduction in the mobile library service and the closure of some public toilets - although it has agreed to try to protect toilets in Larkhall and Weston.
The council said it would continue with its £151 million capital programme including a £32 million transportation package, £500,000 investment on cycle routes, providing 375 new school places over the next three years and completing the £34 million revamp of Keynsham town centre.
Council leader Councillor Paul Crossley (Lib Dem, Southdown), said: “As a council we recognise that times are hard for our residents. It’s simply not fair to ask them to pay more where less is provided.
“This decision, saving households money year on year, will help our residents stay on top of their bills, giving them more money in their pocket to spend in our local shops.
“Times are not easy. This is as true for our residents as it is for businesses and for this council, and because we listen and we care, this council will continue to provide the services that matter to our residents.”
The budget came under heavy criticism from opposition parties.
Councillor Charles Gerrish (Con, Keynsham North), Conservative shadow spokesman for resources, said the group appreciated the council faced difficult budgetary choices.
He said: “We do not believe that this administration is dealing with these challenges in the correct manner, and we cannot agree with many of the proposals contained within the budget.
“The three priorities outlined as the basis of the budget are, on the face of it, reasonable words. However, this budget proposes significant cuts to local services, including libraries, public toilets, public protection, children’s centres, and adult social care.”
The Conservative group was able to secure agreement for a review of funding in the hope of keeping free short-stay car parking in Keynsham while the town hall development is completed, but an attempt to move £1 million from a council fund for gypsy and traveller sites to maintaining the district’s roads failed.
Cabinet member for community resources, Councillor David Bellotti (Lib Dem, Lyncombe), said: “We care for individuals in the community, we don’t discriminate against them. This motion does discriminate because it takes money away from a named group.”
The council also agreed to set up a £25,000 hardship fund for victims of flood or fire to help them pay their council tax.