AS PREDICTED exclusively in The Hunts Post last week, Huntingdonshire s district Council Tax will rise by five per cent for each of the next three years to escape Whitehall capping. What happens after that will depend on a decision of the full council on
AS PREDICTED exclusively in The Hunts Post last week, Huntingdonshire's district Council Tax will rise by five per cent for each of the next three years to escape Whitehall capping.
What happens after that will depend on a decision of the full council on February 22.
HDC's cabinet last week decided to offer the council two options - stick with five per cent year-on-year budget increases (but with up to 8.7 per cent Council Tax increases, if predictions of future levels of Government support prove accurate) or revert to the pre-capping strategy of increasing tax by £12-a-year to avoid a massive hike of over 50 per cent early in the next decade.
On either scenario, HDC's precept will have more than doubled in 10 years' time, but will still remain among the lowest eight per cent of the 238 shire districts in England - assuming district councils still exist in 2016 after planned local government reforms.
Councillor Terry Rogers, executive member for finance, said HDC was already ahead of target towards £5.7 million of savings over the 10-year term, but reductions in planned service improvements were inevitable if the savings were to be achieved.
What had seemed a generous increase of nearly £900,000 in central Government support when it was announced in December turned out to be just £133,000 after extra responsibilities had been paid for, he said. In particular, a new concessionary fares scheme, providing free off-peak bus travel within the district to elderly and disabled people was likely to cost twice as much as the current half-price scheme that covers the whole county.
For the longer term, HDC wants to extend free travel to all journeys starting or terminating within the county boundaries. But that requires agreement of the other four district councils in Cambridgeshire, some of which are extremely strapped for cash.
Moreover, the council's car parks are unlikely to generate as much revenue as previously forecast, Cllr Rogers said. No provision had been made in the medium-term budget for providing dog waste bins (£80,000 a year) and broadband access for councillors (£45,000) or for the additional costs of collecting and recycling refuse from new households in a rapidly-expanding area until that had been properly costed.
"Local people may, in due course, be forced to accept significant service cuts because the Government's approach does not differentiate between reductions in funding from the interest on falling reserves as opposed to large increases in spending," he added.
Councillor Andrew Hansard said evidence from a meeting the previous week suggested that local businesses were largely supportive of HDC's financial strategy and its success in controlling costs and containing Council Tax.