Today I informed the Council's Chief Executive of changes to the Council Cabinet, following the extraordinary action, or rather inaction, of the Conservative Group at the Full Council meeting on Wednesday night. In a shock move, out of the blue they broke their pledge to support the budget they had produced jointly with all parties on the Council and did not even take part in the most important decision all year for the residents the Council serves. They simply abstained, without offering any alternatives at all on the night or at any stage before. Sadly, they have again turned their backs on working for the good of the Borough, and clearly have separated themselves from running the Council in the interests of local residents and delivering this all-important budget which they approved at every stage until it mattered.
Cllr Roger Rigby leaves the Cabinet, with Labour Cllr Colleen Atkins taking on the Adult Services Portfolio. I will take on Cllr Atkins' previous Executive responsibilities for performance and external relations. I want to thank Cllr Rigby for his work on the Executive. The multi-party Cabinet we move forward with is an extremely strong team, which is well placed to continue to deliver for local residents across Bedford Borough.
As has been widely reported, these are unprecedented, extraordinarily tough times with vast cuts in government funding to the Council and a range of pressures crating a vast funding gap. I have worked with all parties on the Cabinet to try to ensure that we get the best for our Borough, with all parties involved in producing the crucial 2012/13 budget at every stage. The Conservatives had approved it every step of the way, having accepted my invitation to them to work together to produce and support a joint budget alongside Liberal Democrat, Labour and Independent Councillors. Or so they told me. On Wednesday the budget that all parties had agreed on the Executive came before Full Council for consideration and to be put to the vote for approval. The Conservatives offered no alternatives, and simply refused to take part in the most important decision that any member of the Council takes throughout the year. They simply sat on their hands, having offered not a single alternative proposal or indicated at any stage there was anything they wanted to change as we had worked on the budget through the year.
The budget was not just a product of the parties working together, it was also shaped by extensive public consultation. In fact, the approach of local residents, responding in their thousands to the consultation and engaging in the process to help produce the best possible results for our communities, contrasts sharply with that of the Conservatives in refusing to take any responsibility in spite of their own pledge to do so.
Despite the fact that the Conservatives broke their pledge to work with me when I was first elected as Mayor in 2009, suddenly changing their minds without even discussing pulling together for the good of the Borough, I was pleased to bring them into the Cabinet last year in order to have all parties working together for the good of the Borough in these difficult times. However, sadly the Conservatives have once again proved unwilling to work together in the interests of our communities, and refused to take responsibility at the crucial moment.
The budget was approved on Wednesday night, I'm pleased to say, with support from members of all other parties. Thanks to the thousands of residents who took part in the consultation and the rigorous work throughout the year in driving out savings and identifying efficiencies, the budget protects services being lost elsewhere such as children's centres, libraries and rural buses, while delivering the £13 million of savings required this year and freezing Council tax for local households. It also delivers investment in the Borough's future, with £41 million for school buildings over four years and the funding to deliver the vital final section of the western bypass.
It is a budget which puts residents first, and all those involved in delivering it over the coming year will be committed to getting the best for our Borough.
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