Copeland Borough Council's budget for the coming year has been agreed, following sustained opposition from a number of councillors.

The budget, proposed by mayor Mike Starkie, was first presented to councillors last Thursday, but was rejected by 17 votes to 15 amid a bitter disagreement over a recent audit report into the council's finances.

Labour councillors have argued that the latest report proved "damning" of the mayor's "management of council finances", while Mr Starkie has responded that the latest report from Grant Thornton notes improvements made in the wake of the devastating 2017 cyber attack, which crippled the council's IT systems for the best part of a year, seriously affecting its financial reporting systems, which exacerbated existing issues faced by the council.

Mr Starkie also said he inherited significant financial accountability issues from the previous administration, including a "£13.2m black hole" in the council's finances.

The Copeland Labour group stated, following last Thursday's meeting, that the Grant Thornton report "covers the time period when Mr Starkie was in control of council finances", and raises "some very serious questions that need to be answered before the Labour group can trust the financial proposals that Mr Starkie puts before the council".

"One reason the Labour Group took this decision [to vote against the budget] was because of the serious outstanding concerns raised in the Thornton report regarding council finances including "serious governance failings", and because the mayor has taken absolutely no responsibility for this damning report that charts his management of council finances in recent years," the group's statement read.

Labour councillors again voted against the proposed budget that came before council yesterday, but as a two thirds majority was required to successfully reject the budget a second time, the 18 votes against in the face of of 13 votes for the budget were not enough to dismiss it a second time.

As a result, the budget was passed.

Labour group leader Michael McVeigh said that there had been a breakdown in the "cooperative model" on which the council had been working in July last year, following the formerly independent Mr Starkie's decision to join the Conservative Party.

Mr McVeigh said the "breakdown" of "cooperation" meant Labour councillors could not support the mayor's budget.

"We don't have confidence, we don't have trust," he said.

Former Labour, now independent councillor Graham Calvin was one of the 18 to oppose the budget.

Citing his concerns over the Grant Thornton findings, Mr Calvin said that despite Mr Starkie's "talk about previous events", the "damning report falls at [Mr Starkie's] feet", as the council's elected mayor.

"If he was now a CEO on a board, they'd be calling for his resignation," he said.

Following yesterday's meeting, Mr Starkie criticised the Labour group for voting against the budget without proposing alternatives the group would wish to support.

"Labour were solely focused on making political capital out of a report from Grant Thornton," he said.

Mr Starkie said the "considerable time" taken to complete the investigation begun into the council's accounts started in 2015 "held back the accounts and those of following years because they can only be signed off in sequence".

"We were playing catch up from day one."

Conservative group leader David Moore said following yesterday's meeting that the Grant Thornton report was "not connected" to the budget, and accused the Labour group of launching an "attack" on the council's officers as a result.

"The misguided use of the Grant Thornton report in a poorly targeted political motivated attack on the Mayor sadly has officers on the end of it.

"Attacking the mayor claiming quite wrongly he is failing to implement strategy is an out and out attack on the officer team he has built to carry out that work," Mr Moore said.

The budget itself proposes a 1.95 per cent rise in council tax, as well as a number of investments set to be made by the council, including an additional £600,000 for waste serves, to address additional pressures brought about by increases in household waste, recycling and bulky collections across the borough.

"This will be the sixth consecutive budget where there are no cuts to services," Mr Starkie said yesterday.

"It will be the sixth consecutive year where we've held council tax rises below the Government's target inflation rate.

"Car parking fees are frozen. Discounted and simple funerals have been introduced to introduce funeral poverty.

"We are not adding any costs for green waste and replacement bins. Unlike many councils in the UK, these will remain free.

"This council has met the challenges of reducing budgets, a devastating interstate cyber attack and the worldwide Covid pandemic head-on."