Mushroom, ale, and a whole lot of steak.

They’re not words typically thrown about when local authorities discuss their budgets, but that was the analogy made as Bexley councillors locked horns to discuss financial plans for the upcoming year.

While the Tory majority sold the budget as one that would plot the authority on a path of financial security, while delivering the maximum front-line services possible, it faced criticism from Labour, who attacked the performance of the council’s development company BexleyCo amid tabling their own budget.

Introducing the original budget, leader Teresa O’Neill said a council tax rise of 3.99 per cent was necessary in a time of uncertain Government funding.

“It’s a juggling act as we have to balance rising demand with reduced income,” she said. 

“So we’re proposing to raise council tax but we don’t like doing that because we know that behind every bill is a resident. 

“As I’ve often said, sometimes in this chamber, we’re like any household.

“We have to live within our means, paying for the things we have to pay for like our statutory services, and then making choices about the money that’s left. 

“For us, those choices are complicated by the fact that demand is rising year on year, especially such as adults and children’s social care as well as housing, but of course our income is going down.” 

That council tax rise, which includes a two per cent rise in the social care precept, would see a band D property pay £1,744.67 in the next year.

It was an increase cabinet member for resources David Leaf said was needed to maintain services.   

“It’s a budget that keeps our books balanced and maintains investment in key priorities and outcomes,” Cllr Leaf said. 

“It commits to over £261m of revenue and capital expenditure on local services next year. 

“It delivers funding to our outstanding children’s services, it supports transformations in adult social care to improve outcomes, it provides for families facing housing pressure, it invests in a wide range of preventive measures across all our services and it empowers community groups, charities and enterprises in our borough.”

He said the council had demonstrated success in lobbying the Government for funding – mentioning £100,000 the council had received to put towards domestic violence  services. 

He added the council had more decisions to make in the upcoming year to drive down costs – singling out the authority’s contract with The Guardian, which he called a “failing left-wing organ of fake news”.

“I can announce one of the first savings we’ll be making: we’ll be cutting our advertising bill by ending the contract with The Guardian to advertise jobs,” he said.

“Bexley taxpayers will no longer be bankrolling that failing left-wing organ of fake news. We choose to pay the salaries of our social workers, not the pay cheques of so-called journalists who talk down our country.” 

 However, Joe Ferreira – the Labour Party’s shadow cabinet member for resources, regeneration and growth – said a better budget was possible, pointing towards a statement from the director of finance which outlined the difficult financial circumstances the council still faced in coming years.

“Cuts to council services over recent years have left the taxpayer paying more and getting less in return,” he said.  

“There’s no doubt with this budget this trend will continue.”  

He said a Labour council in Bexley would prioritise “supporting our most vulnerable rather than letting them face their issues alone, and building genuinely affordable housing to give our residents the chance to stay in our borough rather than be forced out”. 

He referred to BexleyCo’s latest project approved at Erith’s West Street, which includes 30 units – none of which are classed as affordable. 

“BexleyCo has proved a monumental disappointment to date,”  he said. 

“Let it be clear, this council is borrowing money to fund a development company we own to build a scheme which delivers no affordable housing in what is one of the poorest parts of the borough.”

It was a line continued by Labour leader Dan Francis, who said a lack of affordable housing being built in the borough continued to drive up the cost of providing accommodation for vulnerable residents.  

“In 2014 our temporary accommodation costs were £1.1m pounds in our revenue budget, they rose to £7.5m in the space of five years,” he said.   

“Our amendment seeks to ensure we reduce the costs of temporary accommodations, and these savings balance out any loss of dividends,” 

“Deeply it does show the BexleyCo business plan, and the way it’s been ripped up in the last three years, is purely an ideological decision.”  

He appealed for councillors to vote for the Labour proposal by saying it was a “sensible amendment, to support our most vulnerable residents”. 

It’s where the analogy with pies, whipped up by cabinet member for places, Cllr Pete Craske, came in.

He slammed the amendment as having “no ideas, no vision, just the same as usual”.

“I don’t know if you’re aware but this is Great British Pie Week celebrating pies, one of the greatest inventions of food ever,” he told councillors.

“Now if this (original) budget was a pie, it would be a steak and ale pie packed full of steak, ale, mushrooms, real ingredients, real flavour, packing a punch.”

“If this (amendment) was a pie it would be a mini pork pie, full of artificial ingredients pork lard pork juices

“Let’s reject this pathetic artificial pork pie and vote for our robust, substantial heavyweight steak n ale pie of a budget.”

It saw the Tory majority do that, with the amendment dumped and the original budget proposed for the upcoming year approved.