‘It’s outrageous’: Finance leader slams Oldham’s 3.5% council tax increase but Labour says there is no other option

By Aimee Howarth

The first council tax rise in Oldham for three years was branded ‘outrageous’ by Lib Dem opposition as the town returns to having one of the highest rates in the country. 

The 3.5% rise means owners of Band A properties in the area – 43% of residents – must pay an extra 60p per week from April, with band D owners seeing a 90p increase.

The rise, which is above the average 1% increase nationally, comes as the local authority tries to save £38million by 2015 following major funding cuts from central government.

But Labour council leader Jim McMahon defended the raise and said there is no other option if Oldham is to continue growing and improving services.

“If you believe in the people of Oldham you are going to dispense with the myth that there is an alternative out there,” Cllr McMahon said at the budget meeting.

“You are going to accept that our budget is creditable, has the right balance between investment and savings, and is the budget to rebuild Oldham.

“It’s fair to say the councils who get it wrong are the councils who only focus on the cuts because if you focus on the cuts you miss the £100million you have left to spend.

“We have had to take a non-political view to see where money is going and where it can be saved.”

Oldham Council has seen almost £160million cut from its budget by central government over four years, and residents face further benefits slashes from this April.

But Cllr McMahon insisted extra money will be spent on services and improving the area, including the old Town Hall, a continued regeneration programme for Oldham Mumps and a new Coliseum Theatre and sports centre.

He added that development is essential to ensure Oldham’s future growth and keep young people living and working in the borough.

“Oldham will not come out fighting from the recession unless we provide the funding, the schemes and the jobs that will get people into work,” he said.

“You’ve got a lot of young people growing up in Oldham who potentially aren’t connected, who feel disengaged and quite frankly don’t believe the future is in Oldham at all.

He added: “The next two years for me are going to be a tipping point for Oldham. But it’s only going to be a tipping point because we’ve been able to invest in the future of our town.

“It’s going to be difficult but these are difficult times. If we shirk away from our responsibilities to rebuild Oldham we are just not failing ourselves, we are failing the next generation.”

Any rise above 2% is meant to trigger a referendum – unless councils use a loophole which allows them to cover increases over that margin within waste and transport costs.

Strong opposition to the budget was posed by Liberal Democrats, who put forward amendments including a 2.5% rise, axing 20 councillors, environmental improvements and charging blue badge parking permit holders.

But their amendments were lost and the original budget passed, despite Cllr Lynne Thompson, opposition finance leader, voicing concerns over the dramatic increase.

“Oldham really can’t go back to the disgraceful position of having the second highest council tax in the whole country, as Labour left it in 2008,” she said.

“It’s outrageous and one of the sharpest rises in the whole country. Without exception, every reaction I’ve heard or read from the Oldham public has been angry, horrified.

“At a time when many people in Oldham are struggling in the wrecked economy which is the last government’s legacy, it is just plain wrong to demand more money than we have to.”

Picture courtesy of Oldham Council, with thanks.

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