A £140 million budget including a council tax increase has edged closer to being approved.

The draft budget for 2020-21 came before the cabinet at the Town Hall on Monday.

It totals £139.97 million but includes cuts and savings totalling £14.1 million, along with a 3.98 per cent council tax increase.

The Labour-run authority has vowed to ‘work closely’ with staff and the trade unions to reduce the need for compulsory redundancies.

But it is estimated that proposals will lead to a reduction of up to 50 posts.

Deputy leader Cllr Cathy Mitchell said the council is ‘poorly funded’ from central Government and discussed the borrowing and investment strategy in place.

She said: “The council can borrow money cheaply but you can’t use borrowed money to add to your revenue budget – that would be illegal and you can’t do it.

“You can use capital money to buy property or businesses, so how can we use capital to make revenue?

“What we can do, and what we do, is buy buildings and businesses which is a bit like a buy to let, it will produce an income, somebody will pay rent on it.

“By making investments in this way, the council hasn’t had to make as many cuts to services as it otherwise would have done.”

Cllr Mitchell told members the income ‘left over’ from its investments can be spent on key services, while labelling local government finance as ‘complicated’.

Leader Cllr Russ Bowden described the income generated from the strategy as ‘absolutely crucial’.

He said: “It’s not the case that the council has debt and nothing to show for it, the council has assets which are considerably greater than the value of the debt.”

Cllr Bob Barr, leader of the town’s Liberal Democrats, watched on in the public seating area as the cabinet backed the proposed budget to pave the way for it to come before full council for approval on February 24.

After the meeting, in relation to the authority’s investments, he said: “I can’t see any other way in which they can close that budget gap.

“I have a lot of faith in the officers doing the due diligence appropriately but we appear to be putting an awful lot of our eggs in the land market, or locations for superstores or food supermarkets.

“As a lay person reading the financial press, that appears to be a riskier and riskier situation.”

Cllr Barr also expressed fears over the council taking ‘big potential risks’ for ‘relatively small returns’.