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Plan to make poorest pay takes step forward
9:49am Thursday 24th January 2013 in News
Making the poorest people in Cornwall pay to fill a council tax black hole has taken a step closer.
Cornwall Council's cabinet voted to make everyone of working age pay 25 per cent of their Council Tax if they are in receipt of the Council Tax Benefit. This means, on a Band D the occupants will be asked to pay around £274 pounds.
A press release from the authority said the cabinet members "reluctantly reconfirmed their support for the recommendation".
They have proposed setting up a £1m safety net to provide support for people in the greatest need and in an admission of the financial pain the decision will cause for the poorest people in Cornwall, that an additional £150,000 should be given to the Citizens Advice Bureaux to enable them to provide information and advice to people affected by the new scheme.
The Government announced last year that local authorities would be required to create their own localised council tax support schemes as part of the changes to the national benefits system.The council says Cornwall faces a shortfall of £4.2 million at a time of reducing budgets if it does not make changes to the existing scheme.
A council spokesman said: "Members of the cabinet originally endorsed the recommendation to reduce the maximum level of council tax support available to working age people from 100 per cent to 75 per cent in December. However, following last week’s vote by full Council to defer making a decision on adopting a localised council tax scheme, officers were asked to bring a report identifying potential options for additional savings to fund any change to the recommended scheme to yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.
The council claimed that these potential savings included a number of frontline services, including tourism, libraries, leisure centres, subsidised transport for post 16 students and community safety.
Council Leader Jim Currie said: “We said previously that it was inappropriate to ask local taxpayers to subsidise the national welfare system. This remains our view.
“The stark truth is that using council tax payers’ money to maintain the current level of council tax support would mean cutting frontline services for people in Cornwall. This is not scaremongering – this is being honest with the people of Cornwall. The list of potential savings are real choices we will have to make and we will have to get used to making these decisions because this is the future. ”
Around 53, 815 people in Cornwall currently claim council tax benefit. Under the current means tested scheme people can claim up to 100% of council tax benefit. As the Government has said that pensioners must be protected from a reduction in benefit, any change will affect around 26,729 working age people.
Local authorities are required to introduce their new scheme by January 31. Any councils which fail to have a new scheme in place by this time will have the Government’s default scheme imposed on them.
Saying a list of high profile services that the council said would have to be cut, was used to ‘scare’ councillors, Cllr Andrew Wallis, (Helston south and Porthleven), added: "During the very short debate, we had each cabinet member in turn saying they do not agree with the proposals, but with a sigh, will vote for them. A North Korean show trial would have been proud if they witnessed today’s proceedings. Granted it is a difficult task, but there are other options."
Deputy leader of the Lib Dems on the council, Alex Folkes called the list of cuts, "scare-mongering of the worst sort".
Adding: "These are not the areas that would really be hit if the council was required to make additional savings. They are merely the straw men being set up to justify a wholly unpalatable decision. And there are many other areas of discretionary spending which have not been listed.
"This council does not have to spend more than a million pounds a month on consultants and agency staff - but they do. This council did not have to give £50,000 to Plymouth to support its world cup bid nor hire taxis to ferry tea and coffee between offices - but they did."
Councillors have also just voted to increase their own allowances.
The recommendation will go to full council next Tuesday.
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