Yesterday’s council meeting was a long session of debating the budget that many felt was early because a lot of information from central government was still sketchy. Considering the council tax does not have to be set till February why the rush?
The main crux of yesterday was either to tax the £6 million ‘grant’ from central government if the council freezes council tax, or look to add a percentage onto next years bill. Most people would say take the money from government, but as the Trojans would say ‘Be wary of the Greeks bearing gifts’ because taking this money is not without risk.
You see this money is for one year only (though CC is lobbying government for it to be year on year) and the fear is a larger council tax rise of up to 5% might need to be made in the 2013/14; or face a £6m shortfall in the budget. Hence my reason for waiting till the government gives details on the grant settlement in December. After all it is well known for moving the goalposts at the last minute.
The Section151 Officer (the officer responsible for the council finances) has made the point of a risk to the council in accepting the £6m grant. Here says:
As part of the budget report in February 2012, there will be a further report on the risks within the budget and the robustness of the budget as part of the Section 151 Officer’s section 25 statement in accordance with regulations. This will consider the impact of accepting a one off grant to reduce council tax and the risks to the
If Council fail to make a decision on the budget at that point it will be the duty of the Section 151 Officer to recommend a budget for the Council. Should this occur then it is likely that this report will form the basis of his budget accompanied with a 2½ % increase in council tax.
For all of the political posturings yesterday on who will look good on an election leaflet there is a real danger of having good headlines this year is only saving up trouble for next. This would be unfair on the public who we serve.
I believe there is still so many questions that have not been answered at yesterdays budget and voted according to that view. For the record (though it was recorded) I abstained on the vote to hike the council tax because I am not convinced we have all the relevant information and voted against the budget because in was clearly going for the zero percent rise in council tax and I am not yet convinced this is right too.
Let’s hope all the information is present in the February meeting when we legally (not before) have to set council tax as hopefully then it will be clear which option on accepting the grant or raising council tax is best for the people of Cornwall.