Council tax to rise as £44m budget gap plugged

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C140029-2 County Hall phot kate''County Hall.C140029-2 ENGSUS00120140701135306

A 3.95 per cent council tax increase has been approved by West Sussex County Council adding more than £45 a year to the average Band D bill.

The move is set to generate £14.5m as the authority looks to plug a £44m budget gap for 2016/17 due to a large reduction in central Government funding.

But after five years of council tax freezes at County Hall, several Tory councillors from poorer parts of West Sussex suggested their residents might not be able to afford four years of local tax rises.

Janet Mockridge (Con, Southwick) suggested some of the county council’s spending was ‘empire building job creation at the expense of my residents’, and added: “My residents would be outraged at some of the things the county council spends their money on.”

Steve Waight (Con, Goring) added: “My concern is we are going into this plan with 3.95 per cent increases this year and the following three years. I’m not convinced my residents will be able to come up with that sort of money.”

The 3.95 per cent rise will add £45.90 a year to the bill for a Band D property alongside any increases by other precepting authorities.

But Louise Goldsmith, leader of the county council, said the council tax increase was done with a ‘heavy heart but a clear head’, while Bob Lanzer, cabinet member for corporate relations pointed out they were only voting on a one year council tax increase.

Meanwhile Jeremy Hunt, cabinet member for finance, added: “We are proposing this council tax increase not happily and not glibly and not without any soul searching.”

Today’s debate also centred around the use of one-off transitional grant funding, which totals £6.2m in 2016/17 and £6.3m the year after.

The Tory administration agreed to put off a decision on the funds allocation until fuller proposals had been worked up, but a Lib Dem amendment looked to commit up to half of the transitional grant on maintaining roads and pavements was defeated.

James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem Group, said the council had pleaded with the government for more money and now they had it, they were proposing to ‘dither’ for two months about what to spend it on.

He added: “The rural roads in this county have become a third world type disgrace in West Sussex.”

Sue Mullins, leader of the Labour group, felt the Government was shifting the burden of finances from all taxpayers on to ‘those who had least ability to afford it’, and said Chancellor George Osborne was ‘taking us all for absolute fools’.

Mike Glennon, leader of the UKIP group, accused the Tories nationally of making a ‘despicable attack on local funding’.

But Mrs Goldsmith added: “We could have gone dippy and spent it all, but we know £12m does not go very far. What we need to do is get the maximum, to make it go as far as possible.”

The Lib Dem amendment was defeated by 19 votes for to 43 against with five abstentions.

The budget for 2016/17 was carried by 42 votes to zero with 25 abstentions.