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Copeland set to freeze council tax – but warns of cuts Add comments

COPELAND Council is set to put a freeze on any council tax increase for the next year – but there will be a price to pay with more severe cuts over the next two.

The Government’s offer of a £100,000 grant in exchange for freezing tax has left the Labour-controlled council in a Catch-22 situation. By accepting the freeze it knows more savings will have to be found later on; but if it doesn’t, then councillors fear a government-imposed financial penalty with a reduced revenue settlement next year.

Faced with the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma on Tuesday night, Copeland’s Executive of senior Labour councillors decided to recommend to the full council at next week’s meeting that the freeze is accepted “reluctantly”.

Council leader Elaine Woodburn said: “We are playing poker, only we are playing poker blind.”

Executive member Gillian Troughton said: “By rumour and threat it is getting clearer to us that government are intending to reduce funding to councils refusing the freeze in other ways, making this a stealth cut.”

She called the freeze a gimmick – “something which doesn’t make any financial sense at all. It would be fair to say that taking the grant would be popular in this economic climate but it would come with repercussions far greater that the public realise. And if taken will reach into the very core of services.

“We have to save over £2million (in one year) which for an authority whose net budget is only approximately £14 million is an enormous amount of money, one which can’t be achieved without affecting the Copeland community.”

Coun Allan Holliday said: “The government will penalise us without telling us how. It is unpalatable.”

Coun Woodburn replied: “We don’t have any information in front of us to make a proper decision because government won’t say how much they will cut us if we don’t take the grant and the freeze. That’s what it boils down so we don’t have any choice. We can’t afford to gamble with the future of Copeland.”

But describing the financial repercussions, the leader said it was a ‘buy now pay later’ situation as the council would have to increase the tax over the following two years.

“I think people would rather have two small increases on their council tax than face a big hike. We can only make so many efficiency saving having saved over £3million in the last two years and cut our budget by £4.5million.

“If you think these savings aren’t going to affect services or staff, we have to be up front and honest that it will impact on the people of Copeland and the people we employ,” she warned.

Copeland Council has to find around £2 million in savings in the new financial year and it means more staff job losses.

Taking the government’s £100,000 (and accepting the freeze) is equivalent to a 2.5 per cent tax rise, which Coun Troughton said would have raised the tax by only £3 a year on a Band A property.

This would have allowed Copeland “to preserve more services not just this year but also in the longer term”.

Coun Woodburn said the council had even considered a 3.4 per cent increase which would have meant an extra £4.20 a year – only 8p a week.

Coun Phil Greatorex said the freeze would affect all councils, regardless of political control, but added: “Our area, our community, will feel the impact more than in the south.”

The total council tax bill residents pay is split between Copeland Council, Cumbria County Council and Cumbria Police Authority.

Each organisation sets its rate individually.

Cumbria County Council has indicated that it will accept the government offer of a freeze for its contribution, while Cumbria Police Authority was due to take a decision yesterday (Wednesday).

Have your say

I take it that the councillors will not be accepting any expenses as a sign that they are doing their bit in these stringent, economic times. Surprisingly, they can use reformed bankers as their model, or will they continue to use MPs expenses as their model? Answer from 'the leader' will be good, not expected though. I wonder why?

Posted by Observer on 26 February 2012 at 00:37

Heres a thought - why dont the council put a stop to wasting money ? They seem to be very good at spending ( wasting ) the tax payers money on things that dont matter - new stadium, Haig Museum, those things that most tax payers dont benefit from !!! Spend some money on tidying up the town, making it more appealing rather than fleecing the funds for the minority ! How about sorting the roads for a start - they are an absolute disgrace !

Posted by Jo on 22 February 2012 at 17:08

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