Members of Cornwall Council have voted to freeze the authority’s element of council tax for the next twelve months, despite warnings of job cuts and pressure on budgets.
Councillors at yesterday’s meeting voted by 52 votes to 49 with 3 abstentions to support a recommendation put forward by the Liberal Democrat group to set a budget of £5425.727m for 2013/2014 with a zero increase in council tax. This will mean the Cornwall Council element of council tax for a Band D property will remain at £1,244,41. This is the third year the council has voted to freeze council tax.
The Council’s Cabinet had previously recommended a 1.97% increase in council tax (42p a week for a Band C property) to help the authority protect frontline services and prepare further significant reductions in Government funding in future years at the same time as increasing pressures on budgets. However this recommendation was not voted on during the meeting, with a majority of Members instead supporting the Liberal Democrat amendment.
The decision will mean budget cuts and job losses.
The amendment will be funded by accepting the government’s council tax freeze grant of £2.44m; maintaining council tax collection rates at the current level of 97.77% and a £3.672m reduction in employee budgets* (see below) and a £400,000 reduction in the strategy, localism and communications budget.
* Impact on employee budgets in 2013/2014:
Adult Care and Support £855,000
Children, Schools and Families £723,000
Shared Services (libraries / £365,000 (one stop shops/ contact centre/ revenue and benefit staff etc)
Strategy, Localism and Communications £479,000
People and Organisational Development £164,000
Finance £326,000 Property £139,000
Information Services £366,000
Legal, Democratic, Procurement £255,000 and Election Services
However the amendment approved today also includes :
• £175,000 to address potholes and improve maintenance budgets for children’s play equipment and green spaces across Cornwall.
• £200,000 for the Youth Service budget
• £1.200m in both 2013/14 and 2014/15 to underwrite the car parking strategy
• £1.245m in both 2013/14 and 2014/15 • Reversing the £135,000 reduction in the Members’ Community Chest
• Reinstating £200,000 to the Leader’s Contingency Budget
Labour councillor, Jude Robinson, said the Liberal Democrats had teamed up with Conservatives to impose "more cuts to services for elderly and vulnerable people".
Jude Robinson, Labour Councillor for Camborne North said: “After all the huffing and puffing of the Lib Dems in Cornwall about cuts, they went into coalition today with the right wing of the Tory party to impose cuts on services to the elderly and disabled – areas of the budget that are already stretched.
“Just as the Tory/Lib Dem coalition in Westminster slashes funding to Cornwall, the Lib Dems and Tories locally work hand in hand to make the situation worse. People on low incomes face a 25% increase in council tax with reductions in housing support. Instead of asking wealthier people to help balance the budget, the Lib Dem/Tory alliance plans mean that even those in homes worth £320,000 plus, will not pay one penny more to save services for those in need.
“This back of the envelope plan was pushed through against the clear advice of the Finance Officer. As a result, more than 100 jobs will be lost and Cornwall Council will be paying out redundancy money instead of delivering for local people in need.”
However the Lib Dems welcomed the vote.
“There is no easy option for any council at the moment,” said Cllr Ann Kerridge, Liberal Democrat Finance Spokesman. “Some of the decisions that we have had to take are very hard ones and will have an impact on our excellent staff. But we know there are savings to be made by cutting agency spend and transferring the same staff to full-time council contracts.”
“But the fundamental task for the council is to provide the best possible services for as low a tax bill as possible. We know from our discussions with residents that there is increasing concern about ever-rising council tax bills.”
“The Liberal Democrat budget is not just about freezing bills - although that is very important,” said Cllr Alex Folkes, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat group. “We recognise that the public also want to see lower parking charges and repairs to our crumbling road surfaces. They want to see more done to tackle anti-social behaviour and they want to see our beaches and verges cleaned up. This budget - proposed by the Liberal Democrats - does just that.”