4:08pm Thursday 24th October 2013
Exclusive By Tom Edwards
HOUSEHOLDS across Worcestershire are facing a council tax rise of nearly two per cent next year - adding an average of £20 to their yearly bills.
The county council’s Conservative leadership has today revealed it is looking at a 1.9 per cent hike from April, an extra £19.88 on the average band D bill of £1,453.52 in Worcester.
It comes at a time when the council is looking to cut a record £98m from spending by 2017, including at least 600 job losses.
During a testing Q&A at County Hall with politicians today, leader Councillor Adrian Hardman said it was becoming increasingly hard to opt for another freeze.
Council tax rises have been pegged at zero for the last three years, with the county council getting a cash sweetener from the Government worth a one per cent rise to make up for it.
Town halls are still waiting to see what Chancellor George Osborne offers next year, and Coun Hardman said the rise would be subject to finding out what that deal is.
Under Government rules, any council seeking an increase of two per cent or more must stage a referendum first.
Coun Hardman said: “The idea that we have a pot of money sloshing around the system is wrong, the room for political manoeuvre is pretty small.
“My thoughts on council tax is what is in our medium term financial plans, and at the moment we’re expecting to raise it by 1.9 per cent.
“And we’d be doing that because we want to put the looked-after children’s budget straight, I can’t find another way we can get around this need without raising council tax.
“But as a caveat, I do want to see what the Chancellor’s offer is first.”
Speaking during a meeting of the overview, scrutiny and performance board, he said any increase which would trigger a public vote has been ruled out.
He said the cost of sending out new bills to homes - which would need to happen if the public accepted a rise during a referendum tied to coincide with next June’s European elections - would be too high.
“There are a couple of counties that are openly talking about consulting in a referendum,” he said.
“But the problem we’ve got is that the real cost lies in the re-billing, not in having the actual vote - we don’t need to go down that route.”
In Kent, a referendum is expected to take place next year over a five per cent rise.
Councillor Peter McDonald, leader of the opposition Labour group, said: “It seems like this is the end of local government - the cuts will affect services across the county.”
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