Tax bill frozen amid spin claims
DEVON County Council froze its slice of council tax for the third successive year amid claims by a Tiverton councillor that the authority is spending £1million a year on "PR, media and spin".
The Conservative council – which collects 75 per cent of all council tax bills in the county – has set its annual budget for 2013/14 at £521million.
This is a reduction of £14 million from last year, and will leave its share of bills for a Band D property unchanged at £1,116.36.
In return for not hiking bills the Government will hand over a compensation figure to the council of £3.3million over each of the two coming financial years.
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Council leader John Hart described the spending plan as a "steady as we go" budget, which was "good for the people of Devon".
"A council tax rise of just 1.98 per cent in four years is unique for Devon and something we should be proud of," he told a meeting last week.
Councillors agreed the financial settlement in front of a near empty public gallery at County Hall in Exeter, in contrast to past budget meetings which have seen vocal campaigns and angry demonstrations.
Critics accused the council of "ducking the big issues" and producing a plan which would see council services "wither on the vine".
Lib Dem leader and Tiverton East representative Des Hannon backed the council tax freeze but called for a £250,000 reduction in communications spending – describing it as spin – and for residents' parking permit charges to be reduced.
"We want more investment in flood alleviation, food safety and improved grass cutting and weed control," he said.
"The Tories' tip tax has led to an increase in fly tipping and is not helping recycling rates."
Accusations of spin were angrily denied by cabinet member Andrew Leadbetter, who said the bill had been halved from the £2million spent under the Lib Dems.
In setting the budget the council was responding to a 28 per cent cut in grant income from the Government.
There was cross-party criticism for Whitehall officials after the recent settlement was not finally agreed until last week, making budgeting difficult.