Lib Dems blast plans for £4m extra cuts to Luton Borough Council services

Plans for more cuts in Luton following an emergency budget have been criticised by the opposition group on the council.

By Euan Duncan
Wednesday, 16th December 2020, 12:51 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th December 2020, 12:52 pm
Luton Town Hall
Luton Town Hall

A Bedfordshire local authority's plans for more cuts following an emergency budget have been criticised by the opposition group on the council.

An extra £4m of savings is required by Luton Borough Council on top of an emergency budget, which set out an initial target of £22m.

But the Liberal Democrat group in the town claims only about £5m has been accounted for so far.

A thorough review of the council's finances uncovered a £22.2m budget gap, prompting 365 job losses and cuts to services.

The aim is to make savings over a two-year period in some cases to ease the financial pressures.

The cuts affect internal services, adult social care and health, general services and education, family support and children, a full council meeting was told previously.

A further £3m savings were planned initially for the annual budget in February.

In a statement, the Liberal Democrats highlighted some of the issues avoided in the local authority's media release.

"The Labour ruling group don't say they continue to pursue massive spend on airport expansion, which cannot now be urgent," said Liberal Democrat group leader and Barnfield councillor David Franks.

"Neither do they refer to their new £83m loans to its airport company, London Luton Airport Limited (LALL), which takes the total loaned so far up to nearly £400m.

"And there's no mention of continuing to pump money into their loss making housing company.

"They also don't talk about only managing to achieve about £5m of the £22m they tried to save in their emergency budget."

The council announced its intention to make further cuts, last week.

It said: "Further difficult decisions will still need to be made over the next few months, as the council seeks to find another £4m in savings to balance the budget for 2021/22.

"It's yet unclear what the effect the economic downturn will have on business rates and council tax.

"These are two other crucial streams of revenue that the local authority needs to pay for public services."

The council intends drawing up a revised budget next month and remains focused on planning for the aftermath of the pandemic.

Its chief executive Robin Porter explained: “We're confident we've dealt with the crisis as well as we could, and we're in a better position than a lot of local authorities across the country.

"More difficult choices will need to be made," he warned. "But I feel sure with the support and dedication of everyone in the council we'll emerge on the other side of this in a position to continue to serve the people of our town.”

The borough council described its initial projected shortfall of £49m in its finances this year as "devastating", after the coronavirus impact.

Passenger numbers at London Luton Airport have been "catastrophically impacted" because of the Covid-19 emergency, it said.

This has meant the council’s airport company has been unable to pass on dividends used to fund some vital front line services