Mayor of Bedford, Tom Wootton, has published his first Budget since taking office in May 2023. The budget comes at a time of serious financial pressure within Local Government, as Councils up and down the country are increasing Council Tax by the maximum allowed 4.99% in order to continue to deliver services to residents, whilst managing spiralling costs and ensuring that Budgets balance.
Mayor Wootton’s budget for 2024/25 will fund a number of his Administration’s key priorities, including:
- Continuing the roll out of 4 hours free parking in Borough car parks, in order to encourage more people into our town centre
- A regular programme of town centre events, again to draw more visitors into town
- An improved cleaning and maintenance regime in the Borough
- Improvements to the standard and accessibility of public toilets
- Money for school improvements across the Borough
- Better maintenance of trees in streets
- Improved recycling, including trials for doorstep glass recycling and food waste recycling
In addition, the Mayor’s revised capital programme includes:
- £25m for Town Centre regeneration for both Bedford and Kempston
- £9m to address the lack of GPs across the Borough with money for new surgeries
- £7.39m to secure Daubeney School in Kempston
- £4.5m on refurbishment of our Leisure Assets
- £1m on cemetery provision for the muslim faith
- £0.47m on Highways Maintenance
Despite the difficult financial picture nationally, Bedford Council’s finances remain robust. Nonetheless, some tough financial decisions have had to be made, due to the difficult financial picture the Mayor inherited from his predecessor.
Mayor Tom Wootton commented:
“I am delighted to publish my first Budget since taking office. It includes a raft of measures that I promised in my Manifesto when I was elected last year. It’s been a tough gig putting it together. We are picking up after 14 years of little to no investment, money wasted on vanity projects, consistent cuts to public services and poor financial stewardship, all of which has left residents with the worst of both worlds – higher Council Tax and cuts to services.
The previous Lib Dem Mayor only managed to balance his budgets after raiding reserves and maintenance budgets, leaving us with a crumbling Borough and a network of roads and bridges which are significantly behind on their maintenance visits. Services declined as departments were pared to the bone, often resulting in poor service delivery to residents.
My aim as Mayor is to take a different approach and move our Borough forward, making it a pleasant and welcoming place for those who live here and those who visit. My Budget is a key part of that ambition.”
Finance Portfolio Holder, Cllr Graeme Coombes commented:
“Due to the significant budget shortfalls left to us by the Liberal Democrats, including a £2.37m budget overspend on the day we took office, and an inadequate Budget for the current financial year, we have been forced to make some tough decisions for the year going forward, including increasing Council Tax, so that critical demand-led services are supported and our elderly residents and vulnerable children can be properly cared for.
Having inherited a financial mess, resulting in big overspends, and some services clearly failing, we are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the Liberal Democrats. This year’s Budget therefore includes measures that the current Mayor promised before his election and is in tune with his wish to take the Borough forward. We will continue to try and repair and rejuvenate our Borough, after so many years lacking drive and vision, and the proposed Budget from Mayor Wootton is a core part of that process.”