Cornwall Council votes to make the poorest pay tax
Cornwall Council gave the green light to taxing the poorest people in the county yesterday.
At an "extraordinary meeting", called because councillors' failed to come to a decision on the tax hike at their previous meeting on January 15, they gave the thumbs-up to everyone of working age on council tax benefit having their payments slashed.
This means that everyone of working age not living with their parents, regardless of their actual ability to pay, will have to pay at least 25 per cent council tax - one of the highest "minimum payment" percentages in the entire country.
A £1m safety net, described by deputy council leader Neil Burden as a "volatility fund", will be set up to support those in "the greatest need" while an additional £150,000 was earmarked for the Citizen's Advice Bureau (which announced a raft of redundancies yesterday) to help provide "information and advice."
The vote was carried by 55 for and 42 against. Two councillors abstained.
Plans to slash council tax benefit from 100 per cent to 75 per cent for those most in need came into being after central government announced last year that local authorities would be required to create their own "localised council tax support schemes" as part of changes to the national benefits system.
At the same time councils were told that the funding for the scheme was being cut by 12.5 per cent, which means that Cornwall faced a shortfall of £4.2 million.
Council leader Jim Currie said that yesterday's decision was necessary "to avoid leaving the new council [elected in May] with an unmanageable black hole."
He said there would be "no choice but to cut frontline services" if the "current level of council tax support" was maintained.
Former leader of the Cornwall Council Liberal Democrats, Doris Ansari, had called for "compassion" at the meeting and "consistency" with other local authorities in the region that have agreed to maintain current levels of council tax support.
Fellow Lib Dem Alex Folkes proposed maintaining current support levels by reducing the amount the authority spends on employing consultants, interim and agency staff.
But the meeting heard that this funding was for sickness and maternity cover and to provide emergency funding for adult care and support, children’s services, "specialist advice," libraries and one stop shops.
Conservative councillors said Mr Folkes came up with the scheme "on the back of a fag packet."
Just 41 councillors voted to maintain the current level of support with 61 voting against.
Following a recommendation from independent councillor for Porthleven and Helston South, Andy Wallis, it was agreed to ask the council’s monitoring officer to investigate the possibility of launching a judicial review "in view of the inequitable and inappropriate nature of this cut to council tax benefit which has been passed onto the council by central government."
Councillors will decide whether to go ahead with legal action at a meeting of the full council on February 26.
It was also agreed that the council would monitor the impact of the tax changes and officers would report back by September.