SOUTH Lakeland councillors unanimously agreed not to increase its share of council tax as rates for the region in 2013/14 were set last night.

The average parish and town council precept across the district has gone up by 7.4 per cent, while the Cumbria Police Authority raised its precept 1.9 per cent.

But South Lakeland District Councillors and Cumbria County Council have both frozen their rates.

This means the average council tax bill in South Lakeland will increase by 0.4 per cent for the coming year.

In a report presented to full council, members were told a band D property will face an average charge of £1,572.43 for the year.

Council leader Peter Thornton said: “Every pound that we can save local residents is a pound that they can spend in local businesses, boosting our economy.”

Changes to council tax discounts, with effect from April 1 this year and which scrap the 50 per cent rate for second homes, were also voted through unanimously by members.

Setting the overall budget for the coming year, members heard the authority remains under pressure to balance a budget deficit as the Local Government Finance Settlement was lower than expected. To achieve a balanced budget, money was taken from the council’s reserves to be used alongside that saved by cutting discounts on second homes.

Coun David Evans said: “We have lost 28% of funding from the Government but avoided a knee jerk reaction to raise council tax. Our freeze is a help to hard-pushed families.”

The opposition party put forward an amendment to the proposed budget for 2013/14.

Coun Ben Berry, shadow member for policy, performance and resources, called on members to back his proposals for schemes including capital investment in car parks, free WiFi to boost high street business and the introduction of a late night shopping day to be trialled over the summer.

He also called for enforcement of dog control orders to be privatised and the council’s free newspaper South Lakeland News to be scrapped.

But members of the Cabinet said his suggestions lacked research and costings.

Coun Ian Stewart said his calls for the council to become leaner were a ‘step too far’.

“As a council we can cut away at the fat”, he said. “But eventually you get to the skeleton and you are cutting bone.”

And Coun Clare Feeney-Johnson said: “It is sad really that before us we get amendments that have not been thought through and which haven’t had the homework done before being presented.”

But Coun James Airey said the proposals were ‘well put together and easily workable’.

He said accusing Coun Berry of a lack of research was ‘rich’ from the Liberal Democrat party, and accused its councillors of being responsible for £500,000 of waste in the last 12 to 18 months.

“And as for South Lakeland News, I haven’t heard of one person in South Lakeland who thinks it is worth the paper it is printed on,” he said. “That £24,000 could be much better spent.”

After agreeing that issues could be further worked on through the year, the budget was unanimously passed.

Coun Berry said: “In the most part we agree on the budget as it is set out. We just thought there were areas that could be built on.”