Freezing(ish) Council Tax

At yesterday’s Cornwall Council meeting, there was a diverse list of agenda items. The first of the topics was on the budget; which meant the setting the level of council tax that will need to be paid in the 2012/13 period.  The other topics was on what time planning meetings start, and the Olympic Torch.

On the issue of council tax, the Sec of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles said Councillors have a “moral duty” to sign up to the government’s council tax freeze. If a council accepts a freeze, they will get a nice one-off grant from Mr Pickles. This sounds like a great and simple plan which on paper and to many will seem as a no-brainer. But, isn’t there also the age-old warning as there is no such thing as a free lunch?  This handout from Mr Pickles could be interpreted as one year-long free lunch, but what happens after?

This concern shared by many council finance officers and Councillors is the potential for a massive shortfall in finance the following year. This could require a large and unconformable tax rise in the preceding years. In Cornwall Council’s case this shortfall could be as much as £15m for the period of 2013/14. The choice could be either wack-up the council tax, or face more cuts. I should not say cuts because the new trendy word for cuts is reductions, or streamlining.

Fear not, the administration, ie the Cabinet, say though prudent savings and a sudden income there is roughly £7m to cover this shortfall. Phew… that’s good then…we are all saved. However, how much of a black-hole will there be in 2014/15. My guess is pretty big. This is the real concern and one I fear the most, especially the very same government department is looking to reduce the base-grant it gives councils.

After a rather short (in council terms) debate various votes were taken on different parts of the budget. The vote on freezing council tax for 2012/13 was carried by 94 votes for, 12 against and 6 abstentions. I abstained on this because I could not fully support this, nor could vote against and then put added pressure on people’s hard pressed finances.

I have got to say there were some good parts in the budget that should be welcomed. These included the Cornish Bursary, the ‘extra’ money being put into bus subsidies, public toilets stay of execution, and money for affordable housing. These are welcomed and received the support of the majority of the council. I voted for these parts of the budget which was carried overall.

While Cornwall Council will not increase its side of the council tax, many people will still see a rise in their council tax. This is because many Town and Parish Council’s had to put extra’s onto their precept because of the added functions ‘handed-down’ by Cornwall Council. Furthermore,  the Devon and Police Authority added 2.6% to their budget. For Porthleven residents they will only see the Police Authority rise because Porthleven Town Council decided to keep the precept as the same a the previous year.

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