Worthing Borough Council has agreed a balanced budget for 2021/22 and increased council tax by almost £5.
At a meeting of the full council on Tuesday (February 23), it was agreed to increase the borough’s portion of the council tax bill for Band D homes to £247.41 – a rise of £4.86 a year or 9p per week.
For Band C homes, the increase will be £4.32 taking the bill up to £219.92.
Leader Daniel Humphreys described the challenges faced by the council during the pandemic as ‘daunting’ but praised the work of the financial team who ‘excelled themselves’ in delivering a balanced budget.
Mr Humphreys said the budget gave the council ‘the means to serve our communities and drive Worthing forward with exciting plans for regeneration and improvement’.
He added: “It is no mean feat to once again drive these improvements in our financial performance without having to reduce our services, ambitions or to plan for [drawing] from the reserves.”
Prominent in those improvements, he cited the progress made in the Platforms for our Places scheme, which sets out the role of both Adur and Worthing councils in developing places and communities up to 2022.
‘Well on track’ to meet the targets set a year ago, they included passing the 7,500 mark for homes fitted with gigabit fibre, handing small business growth grants to 56 firms, and starting work on the decontamination of Decoy Farm so the land can be developed.
The decision to approve the budget was by no means unanimous.
Labour councillors tabled 11 amendments – all of which were voted down.
The amendments included establishing the council as a registered social landlord, hiring a community engagement officer and an equality, diversity and inclusion officer, and splitting the £2m lined up for the Brooklands Park Masterplan among this and other green spaces in the borough.
Labour leader Rebecca Cooper said there was a ‘big gap’ between what the council was doing and what residents wanted.
“This administration has stopped listening to residents and fixed its programme for the town in the increasingly unwieldy Platforms for our Places document.
“But it’s just not working – the town is changing and will change even more as a consequence of the pandemic.
“Meanwhile, we’ve seen what’s happening in our wards and across the borough.
“We’ve watched the gap grow between the haves and the have-nots, and that has inevitably led on to increasing levels of ill health, both physical and mental.”
There was little support for the amendments outside the Labour group – and at times the debate got a little heated.
Carl Walker (Lab, Selden) told the Conservatives:
“Your strategic plan for the town is a barely readable mess.
“Among hundreds of miscellaneous ideas, the only principle appears to be that it doesn’t actually deliver the essential things people want.”
But Edward Crouch (Con, Marine) described Labour’s amendments as ‘disappointing and predictable’ with ‘most of the lefty, woke and politically correct boxes ticked plus some bureaucracy sprinkled on for good measure’.