Opposition councillors met last night (February 8) to put forward proposed amendments to the council’s budget plans but the council leader has already declared she will ‘absolutely not’ consider their proposals. Council boss Arooj Shah, a labour councillor for St Mary’s ward, accused the Lib Dem and Tory councillors of ‘saying things for the headlines’ instead of taking the budget amendments seriously.
Councillors from all parties congregated at a 6PM budget scrutiny meeting to discuss alternative budgets put forward by the two biggest opposition parties.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Coun Shah said: “I’m really grateful to both oppositions for presenting their contributions to the budget in principle.
“But typically, the proposals that have come forward are ill thought out, ill-informed and come from a basic lack of understanding of local government. And that’s what upsets me most because they are aware of the pressures we are under.
“The alternative budgets should be mature and taken seriously by the opposition. We shouldn’t see the budget process as a way to attack administration but a way to take collective responsibility for the fight for proper government funding of local authorities.”
The Conservatives put forward an opposition budget calling for the freezing of council taxes with the shortfall made up by laying off one third of councillors and capping pay for those employed by the council earning over £100,000 per annum for two years.
Coun Shah called the council tax suggestions ‘ironic’.
She said: “Everyone in council knows that the government assumes council tax will increase and bases all the other grant funding on that fact. [The Conservative councillors] either don’t understand or think the public don’t understand this – they’re just going for the biggest headlines.”
Conservative finance boss Coun Max Woodvine responded that Tory councillors were “simply supporting the people of Oldham to keep more of their hard-earned money.”
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems’ budget proposal included additional cuts to communications services, mileage allowances for staff and district targeted funding for regeneration projects outside of Oldham town centre.
Sam Al-Hamdani, shadow cabinet member for finance and low carbon, responded to Coun Shah’s comments, saying: “If she’s saying that we don’t know how local government finance works – [Coun Shah] may want to consider that our proposals have been looked at by the council’s financial officers and found to be achievable.
“I would also say that we’ve had similar comments every year when we put forward an alternative budget – only to find the following year that many of our proposals have been incorporated in their own budget – like building council-owned children’s homes.
“Anyone putting forward a budget for local government finances is in a very difficult position because there is not a lot of money. But I think that our proposals are costed, achievable and would deliver constructively for Oldham. I’m confident I can put forward a good case.”