BLACKBURN with Darwen's political leader has promised to protect essential services and press ahead with major improvements in the borough as councillors prepare to confirm a maximum permitted council tax rise of 4.99 per cent.

Labour's Phil Riley issued a statement outlining the authority's budget priorities for 2024/25 as the papers for its Finance Council on Monday which sets the council tax payable from April 1 were published.

The rise would add £56 a year to the bill for a Band A terraced house and £84 a year to the cost for a Band D family home.

The increase - made up of 2.99 per cent for general services and two per cent for children's and adult social care - is the largest allowed for all-purpose councils such as Blackburn with Darwen and was assumed in Whitehall's Local Government Settlement announced earlier this month.

It means that the total council tax bill for a Band D family home in the borough - including the levies for the police and fire services but not including the additional 'precepts' for Darwen Town Council of parish councils in five other areas - will be £2,219.65 for the year from April 1.

The equivalent aggregate annual bill for Band A and Band B terraced houses - which make up most of the borough's properties - will be £1,479.77 and £1,726.40.

Cllr Riley said: "Protecting services that people rely on and keeping the momentum with improvement projects is at the heart of the council’s financial plan for the coming year.

"Everyday services are to be given an extra cash injection of £1.7million over the next two years to help keep standards high.

"They are:

"* additional hours for libraries;

" * more street cleansing and litter bin emptying;

" * funding for park attendants, shrub pruning and gully cleansing;

" * free swimming for children;

" * highways improvement on road markings; and

" * new investment in climate change work

" Other spending plans includes paying more for care services for vulnerable people, disabled facilities grants, school improvements, refurbishment of play areas and better access to IT for all and also working with others to ensure the Festival of Making and Darwen Live happen.

"There will be major town centre improvements in both Blackburn and Darwen.

“I’m pleased that we are not staring bankruptcy in the face when the scale of the financial challenge for local government remains stark.

“Its tough out there with the cost-of-living challenges and people have told us that they value good quality services.

“We are in a good position to be able to keep moving forward with large-scale investment projects.

“I know there is a lot of really forward-thinking work going on with a shoestring budget."

Conservative group leader Cllr John Slater: "Blackburn with Darwen Council had one of the best settlements in the country.

"They have sold off our assets for millions of pounds they have put up every charge to the maximum.

"It's time to give our residents something back."

Cllr Mustafa Desai, leader of the 4 BwD group which split from Labour over its national party stance on the Gaza conflict, said: "The ongoing cost of living crisis is presenting many challenges for the people of the borough and an increase in the council tax is going to add to that.

"Growth and development opportunities are more long-term ambitions to help the borough's economy. Sadly the short-term fixes all seem to impact the people in one form or another."