Hertsmere's Labour opposition leader Frank Ward branded the Conservatives' spending plans for next year as a "squalid, pathetic, little budget" which "does nothing for the people of this community", at a meeting last week.

But the Conservative group, which dominates the borough council, defended the proposed budget, emphasising the increased financial pressures on the council, as well as its plans to increase spending on street cleaning, refuse collection and recycling.

Conservative Councillor John Graham, portfolio-holder for finance, introduced the proposed budget, at a meeting of the full council last Wednesday, as one which would "benefit the whole borough".

But Labour councillors opposed spending cuts to: pensioners' bus passes, meals-on-wheels, the Hertsmere Worknet training organisation, young people and sport, and councillors' surgeries.

The budget proposes cuts of: £100,000 for bus passes; £2,400 for meals-on-wheels; £10,000 for Worknet, and £15,500 for councillors' surgeries. For a second year running, nothing will be spent on young people and sport, compared to £33,984 in 2000/1.

Labour Councillor Joe Goldberg said: "There is no budget for young people and sport. What message does this send out to our young people? Sport is very important."

In their defence, the Conservatives emphasised: their decision to scrap charges for bus passes for people on benefit; the decline in users of meals-on-wheels over the past four years, and that Worknet operates from a council-owned building.

Conservative Councillor Stuart Nagler said the majority of residents wanted improved street cleaning and refuse collection, adding: "I do congratulate Councillor Graham on bringing in a budget that can meet the needs of most our residents."

The budget proposes increases of: £186, 670 on street cleaning; £102, 340 on refuse and £250,000 on recycling. The Conservatives also stressed that central Government was imposing more and more costs, including an extra £280,000 to restructure the council, whilst planning to give it less money. The £280,000 was met from savings in the council's leisure operations, according to Councillor Graham.

Conservative council leader Neil Payne said the council was spending more on its core services, and that the Labour group's spending when it was in power had not helped the council's financial situation.

The draft budget was agreed at the meeting, and the final budget, which is expected to have a few minor changes, will be decided at a meeting of the full council on February 20.