County set to freeze council tax despite funding gap

By Ian Dipple Thursday 10 January 2013 Updated: 16/01 15:09

COUNCIL tax bills will be frozen for the third year running despite Worcestershire County Council having to plug a funding gap of more than £9million.

The decision to hold the county council’s portion of the bill - which makes up more than two thirds of the total - means if Wychavon District Council, the police and fire services follow suit, residents will not have to pay out more from April.

Freezing bills over the last three years has saved council taxpayers £70 each and kept £40million collectively in residents’ pockets.

But although the council will receive some funding from the Government in return, it will still impact on its overall budget position, and by 2017 could lead to additional savings of £40million having to be made.

Council leader Adrian Hardman said they were aware continuing to freeze bills would impact on its already stretched finances but added: “It’s vital at the moment we keep as much money in council taxpayers pockets as we can.

“When we went out on the roadshows and spoke to residents about this they gave us a very clear steer on what they wanted us to do.”

The move was agreed during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday (January 8) to discuss the county council’s budget for 2013/14. It was revealed the council’s Government funding for next year had been cut by 5.7 per cent and together with other pressures had led to a shortfall of £25million, of which £15.9million will be found through planned efficiency savings.

The remaining £9.1million will be filled by the use of £5million from the council’s savings and further cuts to services or efficiencies.

But with the Government warning councils should expect further cuts in future years, the council’s transformation programme is also having to be widened to deliver £20million of savings per year up until 2017 - £6million a year more than anticipated.

It is not all doom and gloom though as next year’s budget will see £3million invested in adult social care, £500,000 extra put into roads maintenance and £3.4million into early intervention services to ensure free education for two-year-olds.

Coun Hardman said dipping into their savings would give them time to focus on reforming services and making them more efficient rather than resorting to a ‘straightforward cuts agenda’.

“What’s becoming clear to me is we are setting off on a much wider path of reform and change than I anticipated 18 months ago,” he said.

Residents, businesses, voluntary organisations and schools can have their say on the budget until Friday, February 1, before it is approved six days later by the cabinet and formally accepted by the full council on February 14.

Residents should email Coun Hardman on aihardman@worcestershire.gov.uk to give their views.

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