County council set to raise tax to save vital services

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Councillors are likely to recommend a 39p per week increase on the average council tax bill in Nottinghamshire in a bid to stave off further cuts to vital services.

Nottinghamshire County Council’s Finance and Property Committee will meet on 9th February to consider the response to its ‘Doing things differently’ budget consultation, the Government’s Autumn Statement and Local Government Settlement and their impact on the Council’s overall financial position.

It’s recommended that councillors propose a 1.99 per cent increase in council tax - the amount supported by the majority of residents who responded to the consultation and the maximum allowed without triggering a costly countywide referendum.

The 39p per week increase on the average bill in Nottinghamshire would raise £16.5m over the next three years. This would fund the equivalent cost of keeping the county’s 95,000 streetlights and traffic signals switched on until 2018, or; providing care for nearly 20,000 vulnerable children, or; providing care and support for 36,500 adults with learning difficulties.

An increase in council tax would put Nottinghamshire County Council in line with most county council authorities, all faced with the same challenge of meeting the additional costs of caring for an increasing older population whilst dealing with huge cuts in Government funding.

In a survey carried out by the Local Government Chronicle, three-quarters of county councils indicated that they would be likely to increase council tax this year by up to 2 per cent.

Coun David Kirkham, chairman of finance and property committee at Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “Freezing council tax would mean deeper cuts to vital services, especially those to the most vulnerable in our communities.

“The grant the council receives from the Government is being cut by £33m next year, with further reductions projected in 2016/17 and 2017/18. By 2018 the council will have had its Government grant slashed by £92m in four years - a cut of 64 per cent.

“We are faced with the perfect storm of substantial cuts to Government grants at a time of increasing demand for services and significant new duties under the Care Act.

“So, in common with most councils, the only way we can protect many of our services is to ask local people to contribute a little extra. An increase would also build extra income into the base budget for future years, where as the Government’s freeze grant - of just over half the amount - is not guaranteed to be there in years to come.”

The council syas it has no option but to cut £77m from its annual budget by 2017/18 if it is to balance its books.

A range of creative new ways of delivering services are being proposed as part of £30m in savings being considered, alongside the increase in council tax.

Changes could see services such as libraries and highways being provided through arms-length, not for profit organisations in the future and significant investment in new ways of enabling older people and people with disabilities to live independently in their own home for longer.

However, the scale of the financial challenge faced by the council means that reductions in some services are also inevitable.

The final budget proposals, including any proposed increase in tax and changes to the initial plans following the consultation will be decided by full council on 26th February.