Council tax is going up, but plans to hold the extra cash in reserve rather than boost front-line services have been branded “an insult to the people of Cambridgeshire”.
At a full council meeting today (February 6), Cambridgeshire County Council voted to increase council tax by 2.99 per cent in 2018/19, in addition to a two per cent increase in the adult social care precept.
The increase would plug a £4.3million shortfall in current budget provision by raising £7.5million. Upping the tax will add £1.14 onto the weekly bill of a family living in a band D property – nearly £60 a year.
Instead of being spent straight away, the additional funds raised by the tax increase are to be put in a “smoothing fund” which council leader Steve Count said would allow the council to respond to any areas of need without having to increase tax again and again.
'If we spend the money as the Lib Dem amendment proposes, that is it. There is no more'
Conservative councillor Peter Topping said the smoothing fund was good planning from the council. He said plans from Labour and the Lib Dems to spend the increased revenue to bolster public services would leave the council financially vulnerable.
“The harsh reality is, if we spend the money we cannot expect anyone to come and bail us out,” said Cllr Topping.
“If we spend the money as the Lib Dem amendment proposes, that is it. There is no more. The capability to manage what may be coming is gone.
"We would be forced into knee-jerk reactions that would not be in the best interests of residents of this county.”
Lib Dem leader Lucy Nethsingha, while supporting the increase in council tax, hit out at plans not to use the extra money.
She said the Lib Dem amendment (which was voted down by the council) would have given an extra £426,000 to fill potholes and mend pavements, as well as £500,000 for a “better care fund” to help the NHS.
“To take the money and then choose not to use it is an insult to the people of Cambridgeshire,” she said.
Cllr Nichola Harrison was blunt.
"This council has failed to balance the books," she said.
'No civilized society would find it acceptable to leave vulnerable people, the elderly, or children without the care they need'
The increase in council tax was also supported by Labour, whose leader, Joan Whitehead welcomed the boost. She agreed, however, that the remaining cash should be invested back into services, not into a “smoothing fund”. She said people were suffering now as a result of years of cuts.
“No civilized society would find it acceptable to leave vulnerable people, the elderly, or children without the care they need,” said Cllr Whitehead.
A Labour amendment to the budget, outlining increased spending on library services and health staff, was also defeated at the vote.
Conservative Anna Bailey said it was a difficult day for her, and that the decision to raise council tax had not been taken lightly.
She said “transformation measures” had improved public services of late, making them more efficient – and blamed a national shortfall in funding from central government for the hole in the council’s coffers.
“It’s not about asking for more money,” said Cllr Bailey.
“I’m very proud that many of the transformation plans we’ve put in place have led to better services. I think we have to be clear – we are facing a structural deficit here.
“It cannot be fixed by council tax alone. We must have fairer funding, and we must have radical change. One such initiative is neighbourhood care pilot. I urge the whole council to get behind this.”
'We are not cutting services or front-line care'
Cllr Bailey said there is a “fundamental responsibility” on the council to look after the most vulnerable.
“I want my residents to know I have not taken this step lightly,” she said.
"We are not cutting services or front-line care. I will not have residents frightened by this.”
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