County councillors agree to freeze council tax - but say they must now make almost £25million of savings over the next year (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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County councillors agree to freeze council tax - but say they must now make almost £25million of savings over the next year
CUMBRIA County Council has agreed to freeze council tax for another year - but must now deliver almost £25million in savings.
At today's full council meeting, in Kendal, members agreed to the latest budget proposals which set out savings of £24.544m by 2014, in addition to the £64m the council has already cut.
But councillors also agreed to accept a grant from the government which will allow them to keep council tax at the current level - just days after South Lakeland District Council also agreed to freeze its rates.
Councillor Eddie Martin, leader of the county council, said: “I considered it to be simply unacceptable for the council to impose a two per cent council tax increase on households at a time when so many are already under real financial pressure.
“Accepting the government’s grant is the right decision.
“What makes me most proud however is that we have again managed to protect children’s centres, libraries and other core services – I know that our other decisions will not be pain free, but these services are, for me, fundamental to the council’s mission.
“I would also highlight that this budget includes a significant capital investment programme, with over £90m to be spent on facilities and infrastructure in the county.
“This is a huge investment and I’m extremely pleased we are able to put this money into the local economy.”
But Stewart Young, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for resources, said: “Whilst any move to help hard pressed council tax payers through freezing council tax is to be welcomed, let us be clear that this is ultimately being paid for by reductions in services.”
This will be the third year in a row that the council has agreed to the freeze.
However, several members of the council raised objections to the budget, including Lib Dem members who put forward their own amended version.
Ian Stewart, leader of the party on Cumbria County Council, told the chamber: “Firstly, it should be encouraging growth, both as a means of tackling poverty and inequality, but also as a means of increasing income to the county council.
“Secondly, we should be managing the demand for council services.
“Principally this means investing in more prevention to decrease costs in the future but is also based on renegotiating the relative balance of provision between the county council and the people it serves.
“Thirdly, the council council needs to embrace newer ways of working and accelerate the re-shaping of its services.”
But Coun Martin told them: “I hear what you’re saying in the amendement, but not this year.”
The majority of councillors later voted for the original proposal.
When making the decision, they drew on feedback received during a budget proposal consultation, held between November 21 and January 31.
In response to issues raised during the consultation, the original proposals were amended in relation to the funding of careers advice services to young people.
While the proposed reduction in funding was approved, it was agreed that this should be phased over two years, to allow advice company, Inspira, more time to make arrangements to deal with the changes.
The council will continue to fund careers advice for the most vulnerable young people – those leaving local authority care and those with disabilities.
A capital investment programme has been agreed for 2013/14, with £91.96m allocated to fund ongoing and new projects, including investment in roads and highways, improvements for school buildings and broadband roll-out.
The budget also takes into account a one per cent pay rise for council staff.
However, there are still savings to be made, and it is thought that by 2016 the council will have had to slash a total of more than £132m.
Coun Young added: “The future holds a great deal of uncertainty, but what is certain is that more savings will need to be made, there will be changes in how services are delivered, and difficult decisions will need to be made.
“We estimate that in 2014/15 and 2015/16 the council will have to find additional savings worth in the region of £50m, but this could be even higher if we see business rate income falling and the number of council tax support claimants rising.
“The scale of reform will have profound effects on the way local authorities operate in the future.”
Council tax rates now stand at:
Band A (up to £40,000) - £774.33
Band B (£40,001 to £52,000) - £903.39
Band C (£52,001 to £68,000) - £1,032.44
Band D (£68,001 to £88,000) - £1,161.50
Band E (£88,001 to £120,000) - £1,419.61
Band F (£120,001 to £160,000) - £1,677.72
Band G (£160,001 to £320,000) - £1,935.83
Band H (£320,001 and over) - £2,323.00