Friday, 1 March 2013

Setting the Council Tax - CWaC

We had the yearly budget debate at CWaC last night.  As you might expect we voted to accept the budget put forward by Cllr Les Ford for next year.  This sees a modest 1.9% rise in the Council Tax - slightly less than what Cheshire Fire Authority (1.99%) and Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner (1.99%) are doing and a little bit more than the 0.2% cut I introduced at Frodsham Town Council.

This means that every year since CWaC was created residents of Cheshire West have seen a real terms cut in the Council Tax.  We've had council tax cuts (last year), council tax freezes (the year before) and a couple of less than 2% rises in the period.  Inflation when cumulated over the four years has been around 11%.

No-one likes tax rises - but the extra £2m or so this modest rise raises will allow CWaC to keep its ambitious capital programme on track.  It is also worth pointing out that since CWaC was created we have stripped out and saved more than £100m from the costs of running the council - and it looks like over the next 3-4 years we will be making a further £34m worth of savings.  This is also whilst pushing foward on ambitious regeneration work in Northwich, Winsford and Ellesmere Port.

This is at a time when we have protected front line services - and are continuing to invest in our infrastructure.  In Frodsham I hope we will be seeing shortly a new expanded and improved library as an example.  And we've all seen the excellent job the council is doing in improving the state of our roads.

The budget debate is not usually a riveting affair - it is normally an opportunity for many to show ineptitude - and last night was no exception.  The opposition Labour Group proposed, in the scheme of CWaC's budgets, a tiny change - they wanted around £1.5m to go towards an 8, rather than a 6 lane swimming pool in Northwich and £100k to go towards facilities in Neston. 

I pointed out that Northwich Town Council - incidentally the Town Council with the highest council tax charge in CWaC - could readily finance that money - along with extended winter gritting as we do in Frodsham (this was raised earlier by a member of the public).  It also looked like the Labour Group seeking to shore up their support in Northwich - and I chided, gently, Labour Cllr Mercer-Bailey who proposed the changes.  Was she putting forward an manifesto for re-election in Northwich for 2015?

Lab Finance Shadow Cllr Tickridge rambled in her 19 min speech which was punctuated every few seconds with the word 'Tory.' If she had concentrated a little more on local government finance and a lot less on synthetic invective over national government policy she may have made a more telling contribution.  As it was I offered her - what I had hoped to be my and my wife's seat on the trip to Mars - I suggested she may get a better, more receptive audience amongst the planets.

[Note - The trip to Mars is looking for an older married couple - who are likely to suffer less from 500 days in space.  However they will have to live together in very close proximity with a limited audience!  You can imagine my wife's response to my suggestion]