Council Tax increases are being proposed in two leading West Country authorities. Cornwall Council want to introduce a 1.9% increase in April, following two years of Council Tax freezes. The leader of Cornwall Council says the rise is needed to plug a shortfall of £6.5m. The final decision on the increase will be made by the full council in February.
In Bristol, the newly elected Mayor of the city, the independent George Ferguson, is also proposing a council tax rise of just under 2%. He is matching this rise with a declaration to cut £35m in council spending. This will include cutting 330 jobs, 100 of them compulsory redundancies, making savings of £19.5m.
Determined to ‘cut from the top’, he is not replacing the current chief executive. This follows the early retirement of CE Jan Ormonroyd—whose costly wage increases were the target of a TPA Action Day in Bristol early last year . Instead, the Mayor says the replacement will be ‘a chief operating officer who comes from industry and will also be head of corporate services.’ ‘It's important we treat running the city council as a business,’ argues Ferguson. ‘I do believe the cuts are responsible and it would be irresponsible not to put up Council Tax.’
Members of the former administration are unhappy about any talks of cuts. "I don't want any teams or staff put under so much pressure the whole thing breaks down,’ says cabinet member Simon King. ‘There are things here that as a past leader and deputy leader of the previous administration I regret. I regret we can't build the recycling centre or the swimming pool, and I will go on arguing with George that maybe we can.’
Former rival mayoral candidate and now cabinet member responsible for Finance Geoff Gollop says these proposals, including the Council Tax rise, are ‘not written in tablets of stone,’ are open to suggested amendments and will need to be approved by a majority vote of the council. A source close to the council says ‘It seems that a Council Tax increase has been suggested in some quarters, however the aim is still to achieve a freeze if possible.’
The last thing local authorities should be doing is hiking Council Tax, which hits the poorest households the hardest. After years of taking more and more money from everyone’s wallets it is time council’s focus on cutting waste and bureaucracy instead of pretending a little more cash is the answer to all their problems. What will be particularly galling to many of the residents facing rises is that the politicians are proposing hiking taxes just below the threshold for a referendum. Clearly they are afraid to ask the public their honest opinion on the tax hikes.