Cash-strapped council approves ‘toughest budget yet’ as bills rise
PUBLISHED: 16:53 23 February 2017 | UPDATED: 11:30 24 February 2017
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Council tax bills in North Somerset will rise significantly next year as the authority tries to battle ‘savage’ Government cuts – but the 4.75 per cent rise has been described as nothing more than ‘sticking a plaster on a gaping wound’.
People living in an average house in Weston will see their council tax bill jump by around £70 next year – but at the same time council services face £10.4million of cuts.
At a full meeting of North Somerset Council on Tuesday councillors approved a 1.75 per cent increase in council tax and accepted the Government’s offer of adding a further three per cent which will be ringfenced to help cover the spiralling cost of adult social care.
But the council’s leader Nigel Ashton has described central Government cuts as ‘savage’ and said it is becoming harder and harder for the authority to balance the books.
Central Government funding will make up just one per cent of the council’s budget by 2020/21, meaning the authority will be more reliant than ever before on council tax and business rates. As a result children’s and adult services, the voluntary sector and education services will all receive less cash.
Council-supported bus routes will see services scaled back, opening hours at recycling centres will reduce and there will also be cuts to learning disabilities services.
Cllr Ashton said: “The last six years have been cut after cut after cut – and you run out of options. Next year is going to be the toughest yet.
“I think this is the hardest budget I have seen since I have been at North Somerset – it is going to be difficult, it is not going to be easy, but I do believe we are going to get there.”
Green Party Councillor Tom Leimdorfer said council tax should rise by the maximum amount of 4.99 per cent to raise cash for services, and said: “The council gives this message to the Government saying ‘it’s hard, but we are happy to make cuts’.”
But Cllr Ashton said costs should be kept down to save the public money.
Councillor Richard Tucker – group leader for Labour – said: “Residents face council tax increases for steadily decreasing services and will pay a social care precept that is no more than a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. All while the Government continues to pass the buck onto councils and residents.”
But for the first time this year opposition groups have not submitted alternative budgets. Liberal Democrat group leader Mike Bell said: “We no longer have confidence the administration is at all interested in listening to alternative views.
“Throughout the budget process, councillors have been kept in the dark about the details.
“This year marks 10 years of the leadership of Nigel Ashton and Elfan Ap Rees and they have shown total contempt for democratic decision-making. They seem perfectly content to force their own vision of poorer services and higher taxes on local people with no debate whatsoever.”
READ MORE: Council budget explained here.