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Sunday, 31 August 2014

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Small rise in council tax for Copeland residents

COPELAND residents will face a small rise in their council tax this year – despite two out of the three decision-making bodies accepting a government offer of a freeze.

The bill residents receive is made up of three parts: contributions to Copeland Council, Cumbria County Council and Cumbria Police Authority, plus a parish council precept if applicable.

Both councils are set to accept the pay freeze, however Cumbria Police Authority – the force’s watchdog – has voted for a 3.6 per cent increase in the amount it receives from each household.

Although the precise split is still being ironed out for the forthcoming year, the 2011/12 bills were divided up as follows: Cumbria County Council 74.7 per cent, Copeland Council 11.6 per cent and Cumbria Police Authority 12.5 per cent.

Chancellor George Osbourne is offering local authorities a grant – the equivalent of a 2.5 per cent increase – to freeze their contributions.

However, those that take up the offer fear having to impose a big increase when the grant expires in 2013 – effectively two years’ tax rises in one go – or else cut spending to make up the shortfall.

Cumbria County Council has confirmed that it will accept the freeze, while Copeland Council’s Executive has recommended that the authority also accepts the freeze, and a final decision will be made by the full council today (Thursday).

The police authority opted to put up council tax following fears over future cash problems.

This decision followed warnings that accepting the grant could leave the force, already coping with spending cuts, with a bigger financial hole to plug in future years.

Members also had to factor in a warning from Cumbria’s chief constable, Stuart Hyde, that he could not rule out more cuts in police numbers if they failed to put up council tax.

Members voted by 10 to two in favour of the increase following discussions during a meeting last Wednesday.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Hyde said: “It was a difficult decision for the police authority.

“I am extremely grateful they have taken the bold move to help us address the reduction. Currently the constabulary is in the process of reducing its budget by 20 per cent and will continue to find further efficiencies.

“It would have been difficult to sustain front-line policing at its current level had the police authority accepted the grant.”

County councillors voted to decline the grant at a meeting on Thursday last week.

Stewart Young, deputy leader and Cabinet member responsible for resources, said: “Deciding this budget has been a trade-off between lower council tax today and further cuts in our budget tomorrow.

“Although the Labour Group was opposed to accepting the freeze, as Cabinet member responsible for resources, it is my duty to deliver a budget that can be approved by the council.

“We will now have to work even harder to find more efficient ways of delivering services or even stepping back from services which we are not statutorily required to deliver.

“Cuts of more than £88m will not be a case of doing more for less, but a case of doing less for less.

“At the end of this difficult process we will be a smaller organisation, but we will still be meeting the needs of the people of Cumbria each and every day from the start to the end of their lives.

“We do so because these services are important and are relied upon, not least by the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.”

Council leader Eddie Martin said town halls had a moral duty to freeze council tax for people who were struggling with household budgets and accepting the grant was something that it could directly control.

A total of 51 councillors voted in favour of accepting the grant while 22 voted against.

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