Council tax freeze - but bills still set to rise

Civic Centre on West Paddock in Leyland
Civic Centre on West Paddock in Leyland
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South Ribble Council has agreed to freeze its share of council tax this year, blasting other authorities for a hike in residents’ bills.

The Conservative’s budget for the next financial year was voted through at a heated council meeting last night, in which the Tories criticised Labour-led Lancashire County Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner for upping their share of council tax.

Despite this, the Conservatives assured the future is bright for South Ribble, although the borough’s Labour group argued the budget proposals are ‘tired’ and ‘out of touch’ with what residents want.

The budget for 2014/15 identifies £410,000 of savings and the rest is expected to be balanced with contributions from reserves, with money earmarked to make improvements in parks and open spaces, to protect community safety, and keep on top of services such as waste collections and environmental health.

Speaking at a full council meeting at Leyland’s Civic Centre on Wednesday, the council’s cabinet member for finance and resources, Coun Stephen Robinson, said: “Despite reductions of around 57 per cent in our government grant over five years, I am recommending to the council this evening that our share of council tax is frozen for the fourth time in five years.

“Unfortunately the bills that will drop onto our residents’ doormats over the next two to three weeks will show an increase in the amounts payable.

“This is because the Labour administration at County Hall has raised the county council precept by 1.99 per cent, as has the Labour Police and Crime Commissioner.

“This is an especially bitter pill to swallow, as the Commissioner’s budget is under-spent for the current year, and he has also declared that even though the police precept is rising, there will be no extra police officers.

“Same old Labour - don’t bother managing situations or search for tenable solutions, just raise tax and increase spending.”

Aiming to close a budget deficit of £1.1m in 2013/14, South Ribble Council had identified around £500,000 of savings, and planned to use around £600,000 from reserves.

But having found more than £1.1m in budget efficiencies, the council has not had to use any of this money from reserves.

Now, it has earmarked an extra £380,000 from reserves for 2014/15, to be spent on public open space and masterplanning for the future.

But the opposition Labour party warned that the council is heading for a huge financial crash.

Coun Paul Foster, shadow member for finance and resources, said: “This budget is striking by the very fact it is woefully void of anything of substance, of anything new - one more year of the Conservatives marking time and awaiting the inevitable crash.

“The Conservative administration has overseen the demise of this once great authority and has no short, medium or long-term strategic plan to deal with the real issues that we face.”

Coun Foster accused the Conservative’s budget as having “no new incentives, no new affordable housing schemes, and limited opportunities generally delivered by partners when the do come along.”

David Howarth, South Ribble’s Liberal Democrat leader, added: “We will support this budget but we do have some concerns about some elements of it, and potential black holes for the future.

“We’ve heard the Conservatives congratulating themselves on freezing council tax for the fourth time in five years, and criticising Lancashire County Council for increasing its share of council tax.

“But maybe last year, when the county council was Conservative-led and it announced a drop in council tax, freezing it might have been a better option.

“Clearly from tonight, the next election campaign has started.”

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted in favour of the budget, which went through on a majority of 30 to 18.