DCC’s leader John Hart and Chief Executive Phil Norrey are selling the budget which will be proposed on Thursday as a good deal, even the best in years. However essentially we have a standstill on services, more spending on administration and a big increase in council tax. What’s not to like?
- There will be more spending on adult social care and children’s services – but only to keep pace with demand, not to improve services.
- 70 per cent of the Council’s spending will go on 3 per cent of the population – less than 10,000 vulnerable old people and 5,000 vulnerable children.
- Council tax will rise by 3.99 per cent, well ahead of wage inflation at 2.9 per cent, another above-inflation increase after many years of them. The Government says it’s not increasing taxes – but by underfunding councils, it’s forcing us to increase council tax,
- On top of this, because the Government has prioritised Brexit and hasn’t announced its medium-term spending plans, DCC is keeping more in reserves than it really needs, rather than spending on services or keeping council tax down, in case the Government lets us down.
- And of course, we’re putting up council tax this year because next year it will be election year, and the Tories won’t want to go into the County elections with another big rise.
- Obviously it’s right that the Council should ensure that those with the greatest needs are properly looked after. But it’s not right that most residents should pay more and more every year in return for fewer services. The Council’s own community survey shows many people complaining about this – and they are right.
- There will be a small above-inflation rise in Highways spending – this is welcome. But other services will see no real increase, while the Council’s corporate services will get a big rise. That’s not right.
- I’m specially concerned about libraries. The Council is rightly proud of keeping all 50 libraries open. But we are expecting a further drastic fall in book issues, from 2.4 to 2.2 million, over 8 per cent, after years of similar falls. The Council seems to think books don’t matter so much, but if we keep on like this, the core function of our libraries will be dead within a decade.
- It’s time to put some money back into services that can benefit everyone. That’s what I shall be looking for on Thursday.