Cornwall Council Cabinet pushes for minimum 25% council tax charge
CORNWALL Council's leading Cabinet will tell full council next week that they must start charging every household a minimum of 25% council tax or vital services will be lost.
The Cabinet met this afternoon to debate again plans for council tax benefit - responsibility for which has been switched to local councils by the Government.
Residents on benefits and low wages can currently claim a maximum of 100% council tax benefit under the means tested scheme. However Cornwall Council has said that to retain the scheme in its current format would cost the authority an extra £4.2million a year.
Finance chiefs at County Hall suggested that a maximum of 75% council tax benefit should be allowed, meaning all households pay a minmum of 25%.
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The recommendation was previously approved by the Cabinet but when it went before the full council it was thrown out. However, no alternative was agreed in its place.
As a result Cabinet again debated the issue on today, this time with a list of cuts which could be required should the existing scheme be retained - these included cutting budgets for the fire service, libraries, tourism and highways.
Opposition councillors have suggested that the list of suggested cuts was an example of "scaremongering'.
At the outset of today's meeting council leader Jim Currie said: "At least one member has said that we are trying to scare everybody. But we have made £120m of savings already and we have another £30m in front of us - so the situation is already pretty scary."
Cabinet members all spoke of their reluctance to support the decision to charge every household at least 25% but many said that the cuts which would be required to keep the current scheme were "unpalatable'.
Armand Toms said: "People have said that this will affect the most vulnerable people in Cornwall, but if we have to make these cuts they will affect services which are used by the most vulnerable in Cornwall."
He added: "I don't like this but I am going to do it as it has to be done."
Bert Biscoe also said he was reluctant to agree to the minimum 25% charge and said that if that option was followed through then the council should ensure that any baliff services employed by the council act responsibly on behalf of the council.
Many councillors highlighted that the council was being forced to pass on a Government cut onto local residents and spoke of the unfairness of the position that they found themselves in.
The Cabinet was told that the council was working with the Citizens' Advice Bureau to ensure that help and support was available to those who would be affected by the changes in council tax benefit and indicated that an extra £150,000 was being made available to help those in need.
The Cabinet agreed unanimously to support the scheme which would provide a maximum of 75% council tax benefit. The recommendation is set to go before full council when it meets next week.