Should we increase Council Tax by 2% or 3%?
Cornwall Council used to get 2/3 of its income from central Government, but massive cuts to this grant mean that Council Tax payers are paying more and getting less. Should we increase the bill by an extra 1% to avoid making £2.6m of cuts in services for the most vulnerable?
As you can see from the graph above, even though Council Tax continues to increase, the overall amount of funding available to Cornwall Council has been cut by over £80m since 2009/10 whilst the cost of providing services to the public has increased by over £200m.
In order to balance the books, we have already had to make £300m of cuts, and over the next four years we will have to cut another £70m.
I am proud to say that despite the overall cut in income, Cornwall Council is actually INCREASING its spend on Adult Social Care by £11m from £154m to £165m in 2018/19. Nevertheless, the demand for Adult Social Care in this year alone has increased by £23m, so despite this increase in spending, we will still need to make cuts / savings of £12m.
In December, Cornwall Council’s scrutiny committees met to see where the cuts would be made. This is the most unpleasant task I have had to tackle since becoming a councillor. I stood for election so that I can improve public services, not cut them. Sadly, we are forced to do the government’s dirty work by salami-slicing a little bit off every budget so it just gets a bit harder for everyone to do their job properly.
The other part of the budget which is covered by my scrutiny committee is Public Health. The cornerstone of all our plans to improve Health and Social Care in Cornwall is to encourage healthier lifestyles and provide early interventions which stop people from getting ill in the first place.
Unfortunately, the Government has CUT the Public Health grant to Cornwall from £26.1m to £24.8m over the next two years, then plans to freeze it for a further two years. This means we will have to cut the amount we spend on the Drug and Alcohol Action Team, School Nurses and Health Visitors. These services are targeted at the most vulnerable members of our community, and short term “savings” in this department will inevitably lead to increased costs further down the line, both in financial terms for Cornwall Council and the NHS, but also in human terms as people get stuck with long term health and substance misuse problems.
My committee refused to support these cuts, but without extra funding, they will happen anyway.
Should we increase Council tax by 3% instead of 2%?
Just before Christmas, the Government responded to our calls for more money by giving us permission to increase Council tax by an extra 1%. This would allow Cornwall Council to reverse some of its planned £20m cuts, but would cost the average Council Tax payer an extra £18 on top of the £36 we had already planned, as well as the £42 Social Care Precept, the £12 Police Precept and whatever increases are planned by Town and Parish Councils. This brings the total tax increase for a Band D household to over £100!
We do not want to burden our residents more than we have to, but if we don’t take the opportunity to charge this extra 1%, we will have to carry out all the cuts as described above. The final decision will be made in February, but I am leaning towards supporting the extra 1% (around £2.6m) as long as it is clearly earmarked to reverse cuts to services for vulnerable people, such as Public Health and Citizens Advice Bureaux.