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Conservative-run Buckinghamshire County Council is carrying out a consultation exercise over the Council Tax for next year. A freeze is not one of the options put forward, nor is a cut. Instead, residents are asked to choose between increases of two per cent, four per cent, or five per cent on that share of their Council Tax which goes to the county council.
No council, least of all a Conservative one, should suggest for a moment a causal link between cutting spending and cutting services. Yet the survey asks:
Looking at the following list of Council service areas, from which services would you be willing to see cuts made?
And from which services would you not be willing to see cuts made?
Thus the implication is presented that if, for example, more children are placed for adoption rather than being kept in care this would be a “cut in services”. There are 400 children in care in Buckinghamshire, up from 375 last year. That costs £22.5 million a year and means young lives are being blighted. Shouldn’t many of those children be placed for adoption? For the Council Taxpayers of Bucks it would be a welcome spending cut – for the children concerned it would mean dramatically better life prospects.
In fairness, the consultation does then ask for any comments on improving efficiency. However, with the reference to “the savings they have made so far” is the implication that really they have done everything possible, and the only debate is about how much to put up the Council Tax.
To help emphasize this point, a message in the name of the council leader Cllr Martin Tett says that “over the past four years there has been a 41 per cent cut in the money we get from central Government”. However, most of their money comes from Council Tax. So this 41 per cent figure is rather alarmist. In 2010-11 they had £339 million to spend. Now they are down to £320 million. That is not to dispute that they have had to find substantial savings. The issue that should be challenged is that Council Tax rises are the only choices.Has the council really exhausted all potential for sharing services – both with the districts and the neighbouring counties?
Are they convinced that they have no spare buildings to sell in order to reduce their debt burden with its £18.4 million interest bill? How many of their £5.7 million worth of paintings are ever seen?
Shouldn’t councillors in Buckinghamshire cut their own allowances (£10,718 a year, since you ask, compared to £7,086 in Northamptonshire) if they have run out of other ideas for economies?
The DCLG has published 50 Ways to Save. Buckinghamshire already has a Band D Council Tax of £1,078 – that is before all the precepts are piled on. This is already too high. In Staffordshire and Somerset this band is £1,027, in Northamptonshire £1,028. Bucks should be showing determination to reduce their Council Tax to the levels other counties have achieved – not offering excuses for putting it up.