Cornish councillors have voted against a call for an eye-watering Council Tax increase of 6 per cent. They rejected it by 79 votes to 33, with two abstentions. ‘I don't think it’s right to ask people in Cornwall to pay more than they have to,’ said Alex Folkes, cabinet member for finance and resources. ‘A 6 per cent hike in the bill would be a wrong one.’
The councillor who suggested the massive hike was ‘surprised at how few of the councillors were prepared to think about a more significant rise in Council Tax.’ But that’s not the pain over for Cornish taxpayers. Cornwall Council will now debate a 1.97 per cent increase in November. Of course, having won plaudits for rejecting such a massive increase, many councillors will now see the just below 2 per cent increase as a more reasonable request—and hope taxpayers will do too. Call me cynical, but maybe that was the plan all along—first frighten the taxpayers and then slip in a lower increase, one that is just below the threshold for a public referendum.
In a further gesture towards good housekeeping, the council cabinet voted to stop claiming free meals while they are conducting council business at Truro County Hall— a saving of £15,000. Again, we should applaud this, but only if it is carried out in a genuine spirit of cost reduction and not merely part of a propaganda-drive towards putting up Council Tax. Still, any cut is a good one, especially of such an indulgent perk.
In a bizarre bid to be seen to be more open—or maybe just a sign of plain desperation—Cornwall Council has put a budget simulator on its website asking for local residents to come up with their own ideas for balancing the council’s budget and making cuts of £24m. Call me old fashioned, but surely that’s why locals vote for and pay councillors—to sort that out for them. Otherwise, what is the point of them? Besides, when one looks closely at the budget simulator there is no opportunity to suggest more outsourcing and better procurement, or cutting council workers’ generous pensions.
When the TPA kindly suggested that Cornish councillors look for further inspiration at Harry Phibbs’ ‘100 Ways to Cut Council Tax’, Councillor Alex Folkes was less than grateful, saying, ‘We’re more interested in hearing ideas from local residents than lobbyists from 300 miles away.’ But then, fearing this might seem a tad unfriendly, quickly followed up by saying, ‘As for the 100 ideas, we have already done most of them, are doing some more and most of the rest don't apply.’ A guarded hooray then!