COLUMN by by Cllr Brenda Smith, Leader of the Labour Group at West Sussex County Council (Langley Green and West Green): Council tax freeze is not a ‘free’ benefit

The continued shrinking of the local government tax base is I believe, a deliberate policy, one that has less to do with protecting hard-pressed families than a desire to reduce both the size and credibility of state spending in its local government form. The saving in annual council tax from a freeze, for local tax payers is very small just pennies per week, it is of course more beneficial the larger the property you live in.

However, it is no saving either if you are already receiving Council Tax benefits, through increased age, and/or reduced income. Add to this lower quality services or the complete loss of vital services, such a personal care packages, day centre attendances, Youth club closures, loss of bus services. There have also been disproportionate increases in charges to some residents, for example Meals on Wheels and day centre meals charges, no doubt partly inflicted by the acceptance of the last Freeze grant. Passing expenditure rises from the broadest shoulders to the most vulnerable is not a fair or moral policy choice. Staffing representatives tell me that they are also seeing greater increases in stress and workload pressure on Local Government staff, as staff numbers reduce and vacancies are not filled, this directly affects the quality of service and provision where conservative Council leaders insist, on restricting their revenue options and base. Public services are at breaking point, now, and this is where the debate should be focussed.

 West Sussex, accepted the 2012/13 Council Tax Freeze Grant which was equal to an increase of 2.5% in their Council Tax but was only payable in 2012/13, having decided to freeze the Council tax again in 2013/14 they will therefore face a cash reduction equal to 1.5% of their Council Tax. Labour Councillors predicted, that the Council Tax Freeze Grant creates a ‘budget hole’ in future years. 22 District Councils, 11 Unitary Councils, 2 County Councils and 1 Metropolitan District Council rejected the 2012/13 Council Tax Freeze Grant. The list includes a number of Councils led by the Conservatives notably Surrey County Council; Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough. Tax Payers must not be fooled into thinking that the Freeze is a ‘free’ benefit for them, everything has to be paid for.