Cornwall Council and the Council Tax Benefit
The first full council meeting of the year was always going to be a difficult one; as Councillors had the difficult task of dealing with proposals for a new Council Tax benefit scheme. Let’s make something perfectly clear, the Government has devolved these powers to the council, but has given the council a massive slap in the face of reducing the grant for this scheme. This is a reduction of £6m (12%). So the money has to be found from somewhere just to meet the current requirement.
The Cabinets preferred option is for every one of working age (except pensioners) would pay 25% of the council tax. This had the real potential of really hurting those most in need. After all the Council Tax Benefit is means-tested as you only get it if you need it. All the documentation on the subject is HERE.
Two alternative amendments were submitted as well. One tabled by Alex Folkes (LD) to use the money raised from the end of the second home Council Tax discount, and empty homes surcharge to fund the short-fall in the scheme. This was a very close vote, and it was narrowly defeated by 44 to 41 votes (I voted in favour for this amendment).
The second was proposed by Fiona Ferguson (Con and Finance Portfolio Holder) and this was in-line with the preferred Cabinet option. But instead of a £100,000 hardship fund, this would be increased to £1 million. This increase would have been nothing more than a raid on the University Bursary Scheme, which would have been disastrous for that scheme. I am happy to say this amendment was defeated (I voted against it). I would also like to say, that if you need £1 million in a hardship fund, then you have something fundamentally wrong with the scheme in the first place.
This left the preferred motion on the table. It is hardly surprising, but after speaker after speaker stood up to rubbish the proposals, it was defeated by 43 votes to 37 ( I voted against). I voted this way because I felt these proposals would, with the percentages recommended, harm those most in-need.
Now this put the council in an unusual position of having nothing on the table to vote for; as any proposal would need to have been financially cleared before being accepted. After a break for lunch, and to see if something could be worked out, the council decided by a large majority (only two voted against) to defer to a meeting on the 29th. This would give time (just) to work on other options that could be implemented without harming those in greater need.
You might think this is a ridiculous position to be in, and at face value it is. However, it is my view this is such an important decision, which will have far-reaching consequences, it needs to be done right. And if it takes another meeting to make the right decision, then so be it.
I feel it is far better to make a good last-minute decision, than an early bad one.