Kirklees Council’s Labour Cabinet have defended a proposed maximum 2.99% rise in council tax from April and say they are protecting the vulnerable and investing for recovery.

The Tory opposition accused Labour of sitting on cash reserves which could have been used to help struggling households facing a cost-of-living crisis.

Speaking at a meeting of the Cabinet at Huddersfield Town Hall, Tory leader Clr David Hall said it was “entirely predictable” that the Labour Cabinet would go for the maximum council tax rise allowed by the Government.

He said the rise would mean £36 a year for householders in a Band D property. On top of that there would probably be a £10 increase for the police and £5 for the fire service, meaning a £50 or so increase overall.

Clr Paul Davies, Cabinet member for corporate, said he recognised the pressures on people’s finances but said it was the Government which was doing the most damage to people’s livelihoods.

He said the proposed increase in National Insurance from April would cause “massive harm.” The Government could reduce VAT on energy bills or impose windfall taxes on the power companies.

“That’s what would make a real difference to people,” he said. “We are the backstop and we try to fill holes and help people and that means we have little option but to put council tax up to help those individuals who need it.”

Mirfield Tory councillor Martyn Bolt said the council had reserves of £161 million and each £1 million reduction in spending would equate to a saving of 0.5% on the council tax.

Clr Davies said austerity had meant Kirklees had lost £200 million in funding from central government since 2010.

He accused the Conservatives of trying to mislead people and said: “They are making people believe we have lots of funds available and that we don’t need to raise council tax and that everything is rosy. That’s not the picture.”

Clr Bolt said it seemed that “money is being put aside” for projects such as the George Hotel in Huddersfield, which council leader Shabir Pandor had previously said would cost £20 million to restore.

Scaffolding wrap on the front of the George Hotel

Clr Davies replied: “There’s a narrative they are trying to create that somehow we are putting money into our pet projects and we are almost squirrelling away all these millions. Every single pound is explained.”

Clr Will Simpson, Cabinet member for culture and greener Kirklees, said the council budget included a £2 million welfare provision to help people who needed it most.

He said it was the Government which could help ease the pressure on household finances with amounts that would dwarf the £36 a year Band D council tax increase.

Removing VAT on energy bills could save £200 a year, for example.

The Government’s plan to increase National Insurance from April will cost someone earning £20,000 a year £130 extra. Those earning £30,000 will pay £255 more, he said.

Clr Simpson also pointed out that Kirklees Council would face paying £1.3 million more in employers’ National Insurance contributions due to the increase. That equated to almost 1% of the council tax rise.

“Kirklees residents are being hit twice by the Government,” he said.

Clr Peter McBride

Long-serving councillor Peter McBride, Cabinet member for regeneration, was exasperated and said the debate was a waste of time.

Government cuts had reduced the amount of money that the council could choose how to spend to such a level that it was almost insignificant, he said. The council had no control over the vast majority of its budget because the money had to be spent on statutory services.

“I find it amazing we have taken so much time to talk about effectively nothing,” he said. “The choices here weren’t there. What choices do we have? The Government have effectively determined and dictated what the budget will be not just this year or last year and have been allowed to get away with it.

“This is one of the poorest authorities in the country so if you don’t go along with an increase your public is hugely penalised in terms of what you might do in the future.

“We are constrained in our choices and our choices are limited. Having a real serious debate in council is fatuous because we don’t decide it.”

The budget proposals, which will go to full council on February 16 for approval, includes £10 million for road repairs, £4.9 million for regeneration in smaller towns, £4 million to tackle fly-tipping and for street cleaning and almost £3 million in extra support for people hit by the cost-of-living crisis.