St Albans council budget row continues

St Albans City & District Council

St Albans City & District Council - Credit: Archant

ALTERNATIVE proposals for the St Albans council budget voted through by opposition groups have been rejected – and the whole issue is going back to the drawing board.

Earlier this month at a full council meeting, the Lib Dem group with support from Labour and the council’s Green and Independent councillors overturned the ruling Tory group’s proposed budget for 2013/14.

They voted to pour thousands of pounds into local projects and scrap several unpopular measures – but without adding anything to the district council’s share of council tax.

Council leader, Cllr Julian Daly, had five days to decide whether or not to accept the amendment and he has now formally acknowledged that he objects to it.

In his notice of objection, Cllr Daly said: “I believe that a prudent budget setting process requires a proper consideration of the implication of the amendments.”

It now means that the budget will have to be discussed again at a full council meeting on February 26 and the decision made at that meeting will be final.

Cllr Daly’s decision prompted Lib Dem group leader, Cllr Robert Donald, to attack the Conservative administration for plunging the council into an “unnecessary democratic crisis” and pledged that his party would oppose any move to try and reverse the amendments.

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He went on: “I am extremely angry if not completely surprised that the Conservatives think they can act in this way instead of just accepting the council’s decision or at very least talking to other political groups first about their budget changes.

“It is unprecedented in my experience on St Albans district council for a party to try to change a budget decision it had lost by bringing it back to council a month later. We will obviously fight at this meeting to keep our package of support as part of the budget we have already successfully amended once.”

Labour has warned that should the budget fall at the meeting on February 26, the Conservative group could face a vote of no confidence and be ejected from office.

Deputy group leader, Cllr Jacob Quagliozzi, said: “We need a budget but we need one that is fair. When they were elected the leader of the council said this would be a listening administration. All sides need to listen and work together now in the interests of the city and district.”

The cost of the amendments would come from the council’s balances – its reserves – and the asset maintenance programme. Cllr Daly said last week that as the district council had one of the lowest reserves in the country, his group did not want to see them run down.

He also argued that the asset maintenance programme was for areas such as repairing children’s playgrounds and restoring crumbling buildings on which there had been an underspend in the past.