While Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles blasts some councils across England as ‘democracy dodgers’ by raising council tax just below the 2% required to trigger a referendum, other councils are quietly going about the business of freezing their council tax. In the South West, Somerset County Council (SCC) is freezing its residents’ Council Tax for the fourth year running and yet is still spending on vital frontline services.
By reducing bureaucracy in the council and reorganising working practices with schools and early years providers, SCC hopes to save enough money to invest £4.8m on services for vulnerable children and adults. Despite having to cut its expenditure by £20m, it will find further cash to fix damaged roads and keep libraries open.
‘It is extremely difficult and challenging when our income goes down, but the number of people needing our help is going up,’ says Somerset’s council leader. ‘We will continue with our priorities, to care for people who need it, and to deliver all our services with the best possible value for money.’
A similar story is told in West Dorset District Council (WDDC), which is pledging to freeze Council Tax for the coming year. Despite a cut of nearly £600,000 in the money it receives from central government, WDDC also intends to keep parking charges at their current level, as well as freeze Council Tax and continue to provide its frontline services.
‘These are challenging times for local councils,’ says West Dorset’s council leader. ‘The national picture means our government grant continues to fall, many of our traditional income streams are under pressure and, like householders, we have seen energy and fuel costs rise way ahead of inflation. But careful financial management, savings from working in partnership, continuous efficiencies and the move to smaller, greener and cheaper offices in Dorchester means we aim to freeze Council Tax and parking charges in 2013/14.’
WDDC also plan to set up a budget-working group to look at areas where the authority can achieve efficiencies to protect against future cuts in central funding. So it can be done! Other councils take note and don’t become ‘democracy dodgers’…