Cornwall Council must make cuts – or impose tax increases of £1,000 a year on poor
Cornwall Council's decision to freeze council tax for the past two years was an "unwise" choice, according to Kevin Lavery, outgoing chief executive.
Mr Lavery spoke yesterday as he unveiled a report containing options the council's cabinet is due to consider today to save a further £4.2 million from its budget.
The potential cuts would be needed to fund a local scheme to help poorer residents pay council tax bills.
From April the Government will scrap the national system, leaving councils to establish their own.
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Last week councillors rejected recommendations to set-up a local scheme for the 20,000 people who claim it, arguing the move would push them further into poverty. Mr Lavery said the council's refusal to increase council tax over the past two years had gone against advice from officers to raise the levy.
He added: "It was not the wisest decision. We would be in a better position today had we increased it."
Had last week's recommendations gone through even the poorest families would have paid at least 25% of their council tax. After the defeat officers were asked to draw up a list of options to show where cuts could be made to non- statutory services.
They included withdrawing funding for tourism, increasing charges for some social care services, bringing in on-street parking, reducing funding for libraries, one-stop shops and leisure centres and switching off or dimming street lights.
Mr Lavery rejected the claim that councillors were being blackmailed into accepting the minimum 25% levy on every household.
He said: "These are only options and not what we would recommend. But councillors have to wake up to the reality of the difficult choices that have to be made here.
"Our books have to balance and the money to keep the current council tax benefit system has to come from somewhere. We don't have a wand we magic money up from to pay for these things."
Michael Crich, the council's director of resources, said officers were not deliberately scaring councillors.
He said: "It's not blackmail or scare-mongering – it's honesty. Councillors have to realise what they're voting for."
However, some councillors said officers were deliberately suggesting "high-profile" services would have to be cut.
Alex Folkes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council said the poorest families would suffer if the options were adopted.
He said: "Cornwall Council's cabinet seems determined to press ahead with their aim of imposing council tax rises of up to £1,000 per year on some of the poorest families in Cornwall. The cut to council tax benefits imposed by the government is wrong but Cornwall Council should be seeking to protect the poorest families from being forced into the arms of foodbanks and bailiffs.
"This is in spite of the defeat that this proposition suffered when considered by councillors last week.
"Their latest idea of how to fund council tax benefit is scare-mongering of the worst sort.
"They have cherry-picked some of the most high-profile services and declared them to be vulnerable to cuts."
The council has until January 31 to make a decision – if not Whitehall will impose a Default Scheme leaving the council to foot the bill anyway.