The anticipated rises in council tax bills across Tameside are likely to put an even bigger squeeze on household budgets in the coming year.
The Council Tax hike was confirmed at a Tameside Council meeting in Droylsden on Tuesday night and is the second consecutive increase of 4.99%.
Core council tax will increase by 2.99%; significantly, the highest it can legally rise without triggering a local referendum. The additional 2% will be ring-fenced to fund adult social care.
The move will generate the £5.608m needed to balance Tameside Council’s budget for 2018-19. They say that due to funding cuts from central Government, they have had to find savings of £140m since 2010.
Altogether, with the increase in the policing precept and an additional Greater Manchester Mayoral precept, council tax in Tameside will increase from £58.10 in Band A to £174.30 in Band H.
The Tameside Conservatives supported the 2% social care increase but their amendment to freeze the core rate of council tax was voted down, as Labour councillors argued it would leave a £3m hole in the budget.
The Conservatives hit back, saying that the Council should use some of their reserves, which stand at £162.3m for 2018-19, rather than pass the burden on to the taxpayer.
Labour argued that they were deliberately kept back for ‘rainy days’, such as local flooding, massive reform in their Children’s Services and the recent collapse of Carillion.
“In 2011, we were concerned about the sustainability of local government services,” said Cllr Brenda Warrington, in her maiden speech as Tameside Council Leader. “Now, in 2018, we are concerned about the sustainability of local government itself. Eight out of ten local councils across the country are worried about their financial sustainability.
“We are all in this together, albeit not in the way the Government intended. This isn’t an accident. This is this cumulative result of eight years of austerity, complacency and cynicism from the Government.
“The 4.99% increase in council tax will allow us to raise around £5.6m to invest in council services. It may seem a lot but it is a drop in the ocean compared to the £140m we have had cut from our budget since 2010. Financial cuts and government complacency has left us with no other option.”
Tameside Conservative Leader, Cllr John Bell was heckled throughout his response, as Labour derided the opposition for not producing a budget of their own. But he highlighted the failings of Tameside Council’s Children’s Services, which went almost £8m over budget last year in response Ofsted deeming the service inadequate. The Council’s budget report said they experienced ‘extraordinary increases in demand for Children’s Services during 2017’ but the department has undergone extensive reform since their failings were exposed.
Cllr John Bell said: “The Council has done some good, but what about the inadequacy of children’s services? Who is to pick up the bill for these inadequacies? The Tameside taxpayer!
“Currently, you are hoarding £210m in reserves and balances. The reserves are not your money. It is the money of the taxpayer and you are merely custodians of it. Tameside people should not pay the price for your financial inadequacy.
He continued: “Last year, we voted unanimously to increase council tax by 4.99% to fix the funding gap in social care. Again and again, politicians have sunk from tackling the social care crisis. When Theresa May proposed radical social care reform last year, she was quickly forced into a u-turn.
“It is with this in mind and our need to assist the social care problem, that the Conservative group support the 2% social care precept, but believe you can afford to give Tameside residents a break this year and freeze the general level of council tax.”
A number of Labour councillors defended the council tax increase and spoke out against the Conservative amendment. Cllr Oliver Ryan spoke of Conservative-controlled Northamptonshire County Council, which after resisting council tax increases, is predicted to overspend its 2017-18 budget by £21.1m, while Cllr Leigh Drennan branded the amendment “opportunistic”.
“They have got no solutions,” he said. “They are proposing to take money out of our budget. I think they should be putting forward their own budget if they oppose ours.”
In the final vote, the all Labour councillors in attendance voted to pass the proposed budget for 2018-19, and thus the council tax rise, while six councillors voted against it, all Conservative.
NB. EDITOR’S COMMENT, Local Community Matters does not generally comment or give opinions on local party politics, however, this Council Tax announcement deserves a response. ‘We understand that Councils are under pressure, which prompts our local politicians to complain that their budgets are under strain, but they should remember that Tameside’s residents family budgets are under great strain as well.’