Council to reject government cash and increase bills

By Jonny Bonell Thursday 09 January 2014 Updated: 13/01 17:04

COUNCILLORS are set to defy their own government and raise council tax across Worcestershire for the first time in four years.

The proposed 1.94 per cent increase comes after Worcestershire County Council set out its draft budget for 2014/15 at County Hall yesterday (Thursday).

The Government has offered the council £2million for a limited two year period to freeze council tax bills. But although Conservative councillors have taken the cash in the previous three years they say the rise is necessary this time due to rising demand for looking after children in care.

Increasing the council's portion of the council tax bill will add £20.16 to the average band D bill and raise £3.8million which will be spent on strengthening the budget for Looked After Children and on extra children's social workers.

Council leader Adrian Hardman said: "The controversial bit of this budget is raising council tax by 1.94 per cent. We think that this pressure on children's services is not going to go away in the shortfall so we are proposing the rise to target this service.

"We have always had council tax rates that are well below the average and even with this increase our council tax will still be some £30 below the average. I am determined we will continue to have a council tax below the average."

Coun Marcus Hart, responsible for health and well-being on the council, added: "I have always been a believer in as low council tax as possible and to take the freeze grants. With most services going up [in price] the last thing our families want is for council tax to rise however at this stage it is right."

Council chiefs say the impact of freezing bills in previous years means means the average band D bill is about £65 cheaper than it would have been.

The council also claims two thirds of residents asked at roadshows and consultation events said they would be prepared to pay two per cent more council tax if it was spent on protecting children.

But when questioned by The Standard it was revealed it was not an official questionnaire but merely done 'as a temperature gauge'.

The proposed rise is just below the two per cent threshold which would require councillors to hold a referendum.

Redditch MP Karen Lumley said the rise was 'disappointing' but was a reflection of the tough financial situation the council was in.

The council will lose £28.9million of government funding over the next two years.

The final budget will be approved at a full council meeting in February.

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