Council tax rise vote is close call

Eileen Blamire
Eileen Blamire
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LANCASTER City Council is raising its council tax level by two per cent following an incredibly narrow vote by councillors.

At a full council meeting last week, 25 councillors voted in favour of an increase and 25 voted against, with one abstention.

The Mayor of Lancaster, Coun Sheila Denwood, used her casting or second vote to carry the motion forward.

Labour Coun and Lancaster City Council leader Eileen Blamire said that services were already “stretched to capacity” and that the outlook was “incredibly bleak”, prompting recommendations to increase council tax after a two year freeze “to protect the council’s future income base”.

Meanwhile Lancashire County Council’s Cabinet recommended a council tax freeze for the fourth year running with a final decision due to be taken on February 21.

The police and fire authority’s precept has not yet been announced.

Conservative city councillors condemned the increase, equivalent to less than 7p per week, arguing that residents would be contributing an extra £142,000 to the council in 2013-14.

Coun Peter Williamson, Conservative group leader said: “This...is another example of how easy the Labour Party find it to spend other people’s money. Once again it will be hard pressed families and pensioners who will be asked to fund this unnecessary tax rise.

“The council should be tightening its belt just like everyone else in these tough economic times.”

He added that if the council had voted on a further freeze, it would have received £85,000 in compensation from central government, and also said it was unfair to ask council tax payers to pay more when the council was expected to underspend in 2012/13, adding another £997,000 to its reserves at the end of this financial year.

But Coun Blamire said that the council needed to do what it could now, as it faced further government funding cuts over the next two years.

She said: “We recognise that this will add some pressure to households. And we need to stress that the increased amounts will be comparatively small.

“Two per cent amounts to 7p per week for Band D properties, and 80 per cent of our district’s homes are in the lower bands A to C who will all therefore pay less than a 7p per week increase.

“For low income households and the most vulnerable the council has already decided to retain current levels of council tax benefit.

“This means that those people will pay no increase at all.

“This may not be the case in future years, but we cannot escape the fact that that if we do not increase our dwindling income gradually then we face an 11.2 per cent cut in our income next year then another 5.8 per cent cut in our income the year after. We have decided to look to the future now so that we don’t have to impose a massive rise in the next few years.”