Cornwall Council 'using poor tax to pay for fund cuts'
Councillors in Cornwall have accused leaders of hitting the least well-off with a "poor tax" to plug the gap left by government funding cuts.
Yesterday at a meeting at County Hall, Truro councillors approved recommendations that everyone of working age should pay at least 25% of their full council tax after discounts.
From April 1 the Government's national council tax benefit scheme ends, leaving local councils to set-up their own systems.
Cornwall Council members also agreed to set up a £1 million "safety net" to help the poorest pay the levy – they also voted through an extra £150,000 for the Citizen's Advice Bureau to help those affected by the changes. It will cost the council £4.2 million to run the local scheme.
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Alex Folkes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council, said he was disappointed with the result.
Mr Folkes had argued money to fund the scheme could have been taken from other areas. His amendment to reduce the £13 million spent on consultants and agency staff drafted-in to work at the council to between £8-9 million was defeated.
He said: "I'm disappointed our efforts to save 26,000 of the least well-off in Cornwall from having to pay a 'poor tax' has failed.
"It will mean an average bill for the poorest of £265 a year.
"We understand cuts have to be made and it's going to be tough.
"But trying to get money out of the poorest people in the community never works.
"It will just lead to them getting into more debt."
Jude Robinson, Labour, said: "Local councillors should have thought more about people in the wards they represent.
"Ill health and low wages are higher in this area than anywhere else in Cornwall.
"People are desperate and the local food bank is already stretched.
"Cuts to housing benefits and working tax credits by the coalition government have hit people hard."
Jim Currie, council leader, said: "We are facing a very difficult decision and need to act now to avoid leaving the new council with an unmanageable black hole. Using council tax payers' money to maintain the current level of council tax support would mean Cornwall Council was subsidising the national welfare system.
"With further cuts expected in our funding from the Government in the coming years and increasing demand on our services, we would have no choice but to cut frontline services."