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Cambridgeshire County Council agrees 4.99% tax rise

Counccillor Steve Count announces the council budget. Picture: Keith Heppell. (6998877)
Counccillor Steve Count announces the council budget. Picture: Keith Heppell. (6998877)

Cambridgeshire County Council's portion of the council tax bill is going up by nearly five per cent after councillors debated ways to fill a £13million hole in their budget.

The council agreed on Tuesday to increase its council tax bill by £62.50 a year for the average Cambridgeshire family in a Band D property.

Councillors voted to “utilise the freedom offered to us by Government” by raising general council tax by an additional one per cent this year, on top of the assumed increase of 1.99 per cent council tax and two per cent adult social care precept. This will contribute a further £2.758million to the budget.

The council will also restructure repayments to help spread cash commitments this year.

On top of this, the council voted to approve a Conservative budget amendment which set aside £9.1 million from the “smoothing reserve” agreed at last year’s budget, towards the current year’s finances.

Council leader Cllr Steve Count praised the council’s “prudence” in introducing the smoothing reserve (a financial pillow paid for by increasing council tax last year) saying it gave the council the flexibility to react to situations like this. He slammed what he said were the “tax and spend” policies of Labour and the Lib Dems, and said the decision to set up a smoothing reserve last year had helped the council.

Some, however, were less keen on the idea of using the smoothing fund to plug the council’s budget.

“They have had to use the smoothing fund this year because of their failure to come up with a viable budget,” said Lib Dem leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha.

For Cambridgeshire residents, the increased council tax means a two per cent increase to directly fund adult social care services, which equates to an extra 48p a week to the bill of an average Band D council tax payer. There will also be a 2.99 per cent increase in council tax, which comes to an extra 72p for Band D households. This adds up to a total of an extra £62.40 in a year for the average Cambridgeshire household.

As part of the Conservative amendment, the council committed an additional £28.7m to improve the county’s road network highways.

Cllr Mathew Shuter, chairman of the council’s highways and community infrastructure committee, said he “dreamed about potholes” and the council had listened to the public who were calling for something to be done about the state of the county’s highways.

Lib Dem David Jenkins, however, said the council has “lost control” of potholes. He said that, while he’s delighted with their new “dragon patcher” machine which the council uses for fixing roads, pouring money into potholes “does nothing for the long term life of the highways” which, he said, are still deteriorating.

The meeting was characterised by spirited, sometimes bad-tempered exchanges between opposing parties, and was branded “chaotic” by Lib Dem leader Cllr Nethsingha.

The county council budget was approved with 34 councillors voting in favour, 17 voting against, and two abstaining from the vote. The Conservative amendment on the budget was also approved with 33 in favour 22 opposing and one abstention.

Amendments from both Labour and the Lib Dems were defeated at the vote.

Labour had called for cash to “reverse service cuts” for early years provision and children’s services. Labour leader Joan Whitehead says children’s services are like the “Cinderella” of council spending and never get enough. They also called for more funding for libraries and street lighting and said they opposed the idea of simply raising council tax to plug a gap in the budget when it should be going to improving services.

The Lib Dems called for the council to abandon “vanity projects” like moving to a new headquarters in Alconbury. They also called for council committees to be trimmed and for councillors’ allowances to be reduced to save cash.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Whitehead said that, while the Labour amendment had been defeated, she is relatively pleased as many of their suggestions, like improving street lighting and funding for libraries, appeared to have been taken on board by the council and would be discussed at committee level later in the year.

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