Council chiefs left with 'no option' other than tax hike

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha and Cllr Elisa Meschini of Cambridgeshire County Council

Cambridgeshire County Council leaders say they have been left with “no other option” than to propose a council tax increase from April this year. Pictured from left: Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, county council leader and Cllr Elisa Meschini, deputy council leader. - Credit: Harry Rutter

Cambridgeshire County Council leaders say they have been left with “no other option” than to propose a council tax increase from April this year. 

The rise of 4.99 percent for the county council’s share of council tax has been put forward in the joint administration’s proposed budget. 

The proposed increase would mean a Band C household paying £1.19 more a week, an increase of £62.08 for the year. 

Council documents detailing the proposals state that the increase is needed to close the budget gap for 2022/23, without dipping into the county council reserves. 

The report detailed that the local government finance settlement from central government is not enough to meet the additional pressures being faced, and only gives certainty for government funding for one year. 

Leader of the council, Councillor Lucy Nethsingha, said they recognised that many people are struggling, and said that alongside the proposed increase, the proposed budget also sets aside money to support people. 

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha leader of Cambridgeshire County Council

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha said the council is "very aware of the fact that many households are struggling to make ends meet this year". - Credit: Harry Rutter

Under the proposals the free school meal voucher scheme in the school holidays and the household support fund, will continue to be funded after central government funding ends. 

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She said: “We are very aware of the fact that many households are struggling to make ends meet this year. 

“While we have to raise council tax by the maximum amount to balance the budget, we have set aside quite significant sums so that families and households who are struggling can apply for additional support, which is important. 

“We are very keen to make sure families who are struggling get in touch with the council and ask for help.” 

Deputy leader of the council, Cllr Elisa Meschini, said raising council tax was “not a decision made lightly. 

“There are always questions, could you do something different.  

“But in reality, we have been left with no other sustainable source of funding other than council tax, there is literally nothing else. 

Cllr Elisa Meschini deputy leader at Cambridgeshire County Council

Cllr Elisa Meschini said raising council tax was “not a decision made lightly". - Credit: Harry Rutter

“People usually understand council tax can be good value for money if it means it is spent on services, which we intend to do. 

“We hope people understand we are not doing this frivolously; this is not a rise in council tax to line our pockets.” 

Cllr Meschini added: “There are literally no other options and we want people to understand it’s actually good value for money. 

“We have introduced safety nets for people that might find themselves in a difficult position, there’s funding available.” 

Cllr Meschini added that while central government funding has been cut over the years, she said it has also ‘offloaded’ difficult decisions to councils. 

Under the current proposals a budget gap still remains in subsequent years, but Cllr Nethsingha said she is “determined” that this will not result in front line service cuts. 

“We need to make sure we protect frontline services and we will do that,” she said. 

“As soon as this budget is agreed, work will start on how we manage next year. We are very, very aware that it is going to be hard work and difficult. 

“One of the things we are hoping to do is work closely with the Combined Authority and the Greater Cambridge Partnership to reduce duplication across different departments, where savings are found I hope can be in that area. 

“I am determined to continue not to reduce the level of services to all of our residents.” 

The proposed budget also includes details of investment, including a £14 million Just Transition fund over the next five years, which will aim to fund projects that tackle inequality, improve lives and care for the environment. 

In the first year the fund is proposed to fund schemes that will increase flood prevention, help tackle climate change, widen opportunities for children with special educational needs and disabilities.  

The fund also proposes to increase independent living services, expand direct payments and individual service funds, and expand the ‘Care Together’ programme. 

Cllr Nethsingha said she is “quite excited” to see the ideas that come forward for projects across the county over the next few years. 

The proposed budget will need to be approved before being adopted.  

The proposals are due to be first discussed at a meeting of the county council’s Strategy and Resources Committee on January 27.