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11.03.19

Budget meeting descends into chaos as Manchester council raids reserves

Manchester City Council is to raid its reserves and raise council tax in a bid to make £15m worth of savings in a meeting that spiralled out of control and led to councillors “aggressively shouting” in member’s faces.

Rows erupted prior to the meeting between councillors as they set up to discuss the budget for 2019-20 - and the city council’s leader Sir Richard Leese said the authority was “fighting to survive” after years of austerity and funding cuts.

Council tax will rise by 3.49%, but the authority stresses that it was sticking to its promised increase rather than raising it by the maximum 4.5%.

Manchester City Council will plunge into its reserves for £12.8m to meet the current budget gap, and will also rely on a £62m dividend from its share in Manchester Airport and £12m in extra funding for social care, but it argues this is not enough to cope with rising demand in social care.

The authority has had its central government funding reduced by £179m since 2010, 13% higher than the national average, and has been forced to make cutbacks of £372m since 2010, including £15m this year.

Garry Bridges, the council’s children services boss, said the use of reserves and other one-off funds was “completely unsustainable in the long term” but admitted that it was “the right thing to do.”

Leese stated: “Every year our budget is a difficult balancing act as the impact of government cuts hits cities such as Manchester the hardest.

“Understanding what matters most to people in the city continues to play a crucial role in shaping how we do that.

“But the scale of the challenge should not be underestimated.”

Prior to the budget meeting Lib Dem leader John Leech and city centre cabinet member Pat Karney argued over party posters placed on the chamber walls which allegedly broke council protocol.

Karney then reportedly began aggressively shouting at Leech for over five minutes, whilst the council’s deputy leader Nigel Murphy recorded the incident on his phone.

In a statement, a Lib Dem spokesperson said: “Pat Karney and the Labour group acted as though they were bullies in a playground gang, and it was an awful exposé of their character and those that stood by.”

“Today’s events were a clear example of Labour’s rejection of council democracy; ignoring rules for party political gain, aggressively shouting in member’s faces and recording the events on smartphones.”

Image credit - tupungato

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