Tories and Lib Dems both release council tax freeze plans
4:00pm Tuesday 19th February 2013 in News
With an election just around the corner, Tories and Lib Dems on Cornwall Council are both calling for a plan to hike council tax to be rejected.
The council's cabinet, made up of Conservative and Independent members has recently agreed to a "referendum dodging" 1.97 per cent increase in council tax bills.
However now the Conservative group has said it is "wrong" to increase council tax and have tabled an amendment to the budget for 2013/14 that will allow a council tax freeze for the coming year.
The Lib Dems are also pushing for a freeze, with a budget alternative which would see council tax frozen for a third straight year.
A spokesman for the Conservative group said: “The coalition Government have offered all councils a grant to assist them in freezing next year’s Council Tax. For Cornwall this grant comes to almost £5m over the next two years. We believe that it is right to take this grant and not increase the burden on the Cornish taxpayer.
Conservative Group Leader Fiona Ferguson said: “We appreciate that the cabinet have recommended that the council increase the tax by 1.97 per cent and their reasons for this. However the position of the Conservative group is clear, that we should take the money being offered by the government and hold the council tax at the current level.
"In these difficult times for families across Cornwall it is right that we do all we can to not increase the tax burden on them. We have had to work very hard to find the additional savings but I believe the proposals we have come forward with are reasonable and achievable. I hope that all councillors will carefully consider our amendments to the budget and support a Council Tax freeze on February 26.”
The proposals put forward look to make savings through the Chief Executives Department, “workforce development”, reversing the 20 per cent increase in members’ allowances and “back office efficiencies” within Economic Development.
However the group has released no further detail of the plan.
The lib Dems on the council are also calling for a freeze, with cuts to consultants and agency staff, a hefty cut to the council’s communications budget the focus for savings.
The Lib Dems are also promising cuts to car park charges, investment in road repairs and youth services and more money for beach cleaning and litter picking.
“Our budget alternative stands in stark contrast to the official budget proposal of the Conservative-led council,” said Cllr Jeremy Rowe, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Cornwall Council.
“Where they propose service cuts, we have found the money to reverse many of the harshest. Where they have slashed money for road repairs, we will invest millions and we will cut car parking charges across Cornwall.
“The Conservatives on Cornwall Council have a history of wasting money. They spent millions on the failed bid to privatise a huge range of services without public or council support.
“Last year, council tax was only frozen because the Liberal Democrats campaigned for it. Independents, MK and Labour voted for a rise and the Conservatives dithered. This year, the Conservative cabinet members have again said openly they are looking to the Liberal Democrats to take the lead and propose a freeze. We are happy to do so.
“This year’s council tax freeze will save between £25 and £70 for every household in Cornwall. At a time of continuing economic hardship, Cornwall Council should be doing our bit to help as many people as possible.”
The Liberal Democrat budget proposal seeks to implement spending commitments as follows for 2013/14:
Council Tax Freeze: £3.561 million (net after grants received)
Partially restore Leader’s Contingency Fund: £200,000
Investment in Youth Services: £200,000
In order to pay for this spending, the Liberal Democrats propose to raise income as follows (all figures are in comparison with Council Leader’s proposals): Cuts to consultants and agency staff: £4.2 million Cuts to Council Communications budget: £400,000 Raising Council Tax collection rate target from 97.5% to 98%: £1.05 million
The total raised comes to more than we need to pay for additional commitments (if figures are right). If so, cut the increase in council tax collection to 97.7% (currently achieved target) which loses 0.6m and the remainder of excess from consultants/agency.
In addition, there are three proposals for limited time spending: The Liberal Democrats will cut parking charges across Cornwall in 2013. The details of the exact price changes will be worked out in consultation with local councillors and communities. The overall cost will be underwritten up to £1.2 million per year for two years.
We also recognise that the road repair and safety budget has been raided constantly over the last few years to plug the hole in the parking budget. We will therefore put £1.245m extra into the road repair budget for each of the next two years.
This money will come from the guaranteed Government Freeze Grant provided for two years of £2.445m per year.
The new waste contractor, Cory, failed to deliver the service they were paid for in April 2012. As a result, contractual penalties are being negotiated between Cory and Cornwall Council. The exact figures are confidential at this stage. Liberal Democrats will use this one off payment to invest in additional beach cleaning and litter picking across Cornwall during the 2013 summer.
Cornwall Council will be voting on the 2013/14 Budget and Council Tax at their next meeting on February 26.
Neither group has suggested reversing a decision to make the very poorest people in the county pay to fill a council tax black hole