A CROSS-PARTY committee of Thurrock councillors is being asked to look at the council tax options open to the council which must decide its budget next month.
At Wednesday (13 January) evening’s meeting of the cabinet, Council Leader Cllr John Kent, said the government “expects” local councils to put tax up two per cent for adult social care, and has ended the council tax “freeze-grant”, as it “assumes” a further tax rise of just under two per cent on top in its funding calculations.
Cllr Kent told members: “Over the past five years we have only increased council tax once, in the other years we have taken the government’s, so-called, council tax freeze grant and suffered the losses which that entailed.
“This year things have changed.”
He said: “Government now expects all councils like Thurrock to put Council Tax up by two per cent to help plug the shortfall in adult social care funding.
“Government is calling this a social care precept. It is, however, a tax that government doesn’t want to have its fingerprints on – that’s why they are pushing it down to councils to implement.”
Cllr Kent said two per cent would not cover this coming year’s shortfall in adult social care spending, or even the “Â£1Â½ million bill in social care to fund the increase in the minimum wage”.
He went on: “Having spent five years saying Council Tax increases were not needed, the government has scrapped the Council Tax Freeze Grant and is, instead, assuming all councils will increase the tax by 1Â¾ per cent – on top of the care tax – for each of the next five years.
“Our officers are advising us go further than that and recommend the maximum increase of a further 1.99 per cent. They say our 2016/17 budget is sorted and with a bit of wriggle-room if we do that.
But we know many, many local people are still struggling to make ends meet; thousands scrimp and save to pay the mortgage or rent; and, sadly, hundreds are fighting hard simply to keep their home and a roof over their family’s heads.
“Do we add to their burden?”
Cllr Kent said: “We also have to consider the views of all councillors from all parties – not just us here this evening.
“I have therefore asked for this issue to be fully considered by the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee and for them to come back to us with a firm recommendation on the level of council tax increase.
“They will need to remember that, in future, we will have to rely on council tax, business rates and other income generation to pay for all of our services; and that our business rates – contrary to the national spin – will not stay in Thurrock, but will be taken to prop up other areas.”
He added that if their recommendation was not to follow officer’s advice, they would need to recommend “millions more in savings on top of those we have already made”.