Warwickshire budget: rise in council tax is expected

Council tax bill
Council tax bill

Taxpayers across Warwickshire will be asked to pay more to fund services including education and health provision in the forthcoming financial year under budget proposals put forward by Conservative councillors.

Warwickshire County Council’s ruling Conservative group has included a rise of council tax by three per cent and the adult social care precept by two per cent for the financial year from April 2019 to March 2020.

They have said that this is due to a need to “reinvest in services that are facing particularly difficult savings and increased demand”.

But councillors from other parties have expressed grave concerns about the budget which includes almost £15 million of cuts for 2019/20 due to central government still reducing the amount of money it gives to councils.

The Tories, led by council leader Cllr Izzi Seccombe (Stour and the Vale) have said: “At a time of financial challenges for local government generally, this budget represents the final year of our three-year financial plan.

“In 2017, we identified a requirement for savings of £67 million over the period.

“We have achieved 90 per cent of our savings to date and continue to deliver high quality services for the people and communities of Warwickshire. Our overriding strategy has been twofold - to grow the economy and look after the most vulnerable in our communities. The economy is strong and growing with Warwickshire identified as the fastest growth area in the country. Unemployment has reached 1.8 per cent - half the national average.

“Growth has helped us to increase our tax base and together with some extra temporary funding from Central Government, it means we are able to invest in services in a way that will have a lasting and positive impact on the communities, people and businesses of Warwickshire.

“It has also allowed us to remove some of the most difficult savings we were planning to make.”

In light of the recent ‘Good’ rating in the report for the inspection for Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, the Conservatives have proposed a 60 per cent reduction in the savings required for the service and phase the delivery of this over two years.

The group has proposed for no further cuts to be made to the county youth service funds and that any money saved will be reinvested back into the service.

It wants to invest £2 million in community capacity, independence and prevention to fund projects to support people leaving care, to tackle the challenges of mental ill-health and to “actively explore opportunities to help communities to be supportive of those that are vulnerable”.

Last year’s budget included investment into an ongoing homelessness project.

This programme would be continued for a further two years with £300,000 being spent on it.

The Tories also want to invest £500,000 into community transport and work alongside commercial providers “to support those living in isolation and loneliness, to live well and be supported”.

To meet increasing demand as a result of housing growth and to cover expected savings, £400,000 would be invested into waste management. A further £200,000 would be spent to expand transport planning capacity and to support district and borough council with their local plans. And the Conservatives wants to increase the council’s capital investment fund by £12.5 million.

The budget will be set at a meeting of the council at its Shire Hall headquarters in Warwick on Thursday February 7.

The council’s Labour group has responded to the Conservative proposals, demanding the Tories “put some welly into the fight to get more money from Central Government”.

They said: “Residents in Warwickshire are once again being forced to pay higher council tax by the Conservatives, but will get fewer services. Council tax for everyone in Warwickshire will increase by an inflation-busting five per cent, with some residents paying £130 per year more than they are currently paying. Under the guise of savings the Conservative budget will make cuts over £16 million in the next year, on top of the previous £58 million since the Conservatives took control. The victims are the most vulnerable people in Warwickshire.

“Over the last three years, the Labour Group have put forward a budget that meets the priorities of residents in Warwickshire on public transport, road safety, education, health and social care and community security.

“The budget has been fully costed and signed off by the treasury officer.

“This is based on forming effective partnerships using county assets, which sum a total £1.192 billion and reserves of £133 million, and investments of £138 million which are currently not being used or utilised by this Warwickshire Conservative leadership.”

The Liberal Democrats group are calling on the Conservative administration to establish a high-level commission to look into the increasing pressures on children and families in Warwickshire - especially vulnerable learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Cllr Jerry Roodhouse, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, said: “The pressure on services continues. Over the last five years WCC has taken £88.4 million out of its budget and future savings running into millions will be needed.

“The pressure on children and families is increasing everything from self harm, mental health and SEND services and we believe that a cross-party commission approach is now needed. Also, the fire service is running right on the edge and proposed reductions at Stratford and Coleshill would put the county in a very risky position at a time when the number of residents within Warwickshire are increasing. We urge the Conservative administration to apply our test to the budget and demonstrate that their budget will protect the people of Warwickshire.”

Leamington Green Party councillor Jonathan Chilvers (Brunswick) said:“The Conservative budget proposals are like a half done patchwork quilt - there’s good bits but big holes. I am delighted to see that our excellent youth justice service which helps young people not to re-offend will not suffer further cuts - this is something we have been highlighting for many years.

“But there’s still a massive £15 million of cuts glossed over, mostly to important support services like health visitors, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and to young carers.

“On top of that they’ve irresponsibly ignored the growing risks of flooding to our houses caused by climate change and failed to allocate a definite budget to build cycling and walking routes. We would allocate £8.6 million of one-off capital money to fund the top ten highest priority cycle routes in the council.

“We’d put money into supporting teachers in schools, child welfare, finding solutions to the mess 
of our waste and recycling systems, preparing for 
increased flood risk from climate change and protecting support services like health visitors and homeless hostels as far as possible.”

The budget will be decided by the council at its Shire Hall headquarters in Warwick next Thursday (07/02/18).