5% on your Council tax, but drastic cuts

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Independent County Councillor Claire Wright explains how the Government is forcing Devon people to pay 5% more while services are slashed. This follows a 4% rise last year -and 5% a year is likely to be the pattern until 2020.  This is as unfair as the Poll Tax: we should not be putting up with this. Claire’s questions to Hugo Swire are for Neil Parish, too.

Devon’s council tax will rise by 4.99 per cent from April, following yesterday’s budget meeting. More services and backroom functions are being cut, including road maintenance, community composting payments, as well as funding for vulnerable children and adults services.

Government ministers, who have forced councils, and as a consequence, citizens (mainly vulnerable ones and those on low incomes) across the country into austerity have this year allowed councils to increase tax to higher levels, to offset in a very small way the massive cuts they have made to council budgets.

This year the government has slashed £23m from Devon County Council’s budgets – a 15 per cent cut in the seventh year of austerity.

According to the scrutiny budget papers of 30 January, fewer people will be eligible for social care, due to budgetary pressures. Page 88 states:  “This (budget) requires an overall reduction in the number of clients to achieve budget levels.”

It goes on to state on page 89: “The scale of change is likely to severely test the capacity of managers at different levels, especially where pressures of essential work cannot be reprioritised without risk to those who receive services.”

Over half of Devon County Council’s budget has now been cut since 2010.  More than £267 million over the last seven years.

The council tax rise will cost the average Band D council taxpayer £1.16 a week extra. Devon County Council leader, John Hart said in a press release:  “I believe we are justified in asking for that to help protect and support some of the most vulnerable people in society.”

Of course, he really has no choice with the crisis in social care that is present. This year’s budget was around £5m overspent due to increasing costs of care and massive government budget cuts.

While £1.16 a week extra might be shrugged off by people who are comfortably off. Others on a tight budget, those who are struggling to pay debts and bills, will regard it as yet another burden..

The government says it can’t afford to look after its sick, its vulnerable and its elderly, so it encourages councils to increase council tax instead. Pushing a huge burden onto residents. Charging the taxpayer significant sums of money for poorer and fewer services.

And of course, this isn’t the only council tax rise that people will have to swallow. The likelhood is that district councils will hike their tax, Devon and Cornwall Police has already announced it is increasing its council tax and the fire authority will also surely, like it did last year to increase its council tax.

That’s a massive year on year increase in council tax, for fewer and poorer services. Each year as the cost to taxpayers rise, the services get sparser and poorer.

According to a report out this week almost a third of the population of Britain is living on an ‘inadequate’ income. More people than ever are using foodbanks and homelessness has rocketed.

How do ministers sleep at night knowing that it is their policies, their ideology, their own selfish version of how they believe a society should operate, that are causing this awful hardship… in the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world.

Hugo Swire MP has expressed concern about social care funding and the closure of hospital beds.

But if Hugo Swire was REALLY concerned and REALLY serious about these issues, he would vote AGAINST the council budget cuts in the House of Commons next Wednesday afternoon (23 February).

But so far he, along with his conservative colleagues have quietly voted in favour, hoping no one will notice.

Once again this year, I will notice. And I will sure everyone notices how he and his colleagues vote.

Because this vote surely goes to the absolute heart of whether Mr Swire really cares about his constituents or is little more than a party yes man.

Here’s the webcast of yesterday’s budget meeting – https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/244712

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