In a surprise move earlier today, Cambridgeshire’s Conservative councillors announced that they plan to increase the county council’s portion of the council tax this year by 2.99 per cent, on top of their planned 2 per cent increase for adult social care.
The move comes as they struggle to plug a budget gap of £4.3 million in their spending plans, and prepare for worse to come.
For several years now, Liberal Democrat councillors have pointed out that increasing council tax is the only way to protect the services local residents value. Inflation takes its toll. The Government has massively reduced its funding to councils. The population is ageing. The number of children in care continues to increase. Patients are stuck in hospital because there is nowhere appropriate for them to move to. Roads crumble.
All of this is familiar and expected – no surprises – but Conservative councillors have chosen not to act, until now. Having resisted pleas to raise the cash needed over the last few years, the funding crisis is more acute than it need have been.
Now that Conservative councillors have belatedly joined the consensus that ‘we can’t go on like this’, the real differences between the parties at Shire Hall are about what to do with the 2.99 per cent (£7.969 million) extra to be raised when the budget is set next month.
All parties must use most of the money to plug that £4.3 million gap. As for the rest:
- Conservative proposals are that all of the remainder should be put away into a ‘smoothing reserve’, to help sort out more financial problems ahead in three years’ time.
- Liberal Democrat proposals are that the remainder should be spent – reversing the children’s centre cuts, a bus pass for 16-18 year olds to help them get around to college or work or leisure, highways and footpath maintenance and improvement, street lighting, air quality monitoring. They also want to reverse the massive increase Conservative councillors awarded themselves this summer, and reduce the number of council committees.
- Labour proposals are that most of the remainder should be spent on street lighting, libraries, children in care, local highways projects, and cycling. The rest should be put into a ‘strategic reserve’ for children’s centres and for beds to enable people to be discharged from hospital.
The final decision (a foregone conclusion, given the Conservative majority on the council) will be made on Tuesday 6 February.