MORE than two-thirds of Huntingdonshire residents would rather face a hike in Council Tax than accept swingeing cuts in the services provided by Huntingdonshire District Council.

MORE than two-thirds of Huntingdonshire residents would rather face a hike in Council Tax than accept swingeing cuts in the services provided by Huntingdonshire District Council.

The expectation that the council would have to strip out £8million a year from its (effectively) £35m spending was too much for most respondents in a recent consultation exercise.

Seventy per cent of respondents agreed that cuts of £3m a year was reasonable in the light of hugely reduced Whitehall funding, but they were prepared to stump up nearly 30 per cent more in Council Tax to avoid deeper cuts.

Even though HDC has one of the lowest district council precepts in England – largely because it used the proceeds of the sale of its housing estate to Luminus in 2000 to depress increases in Council Tax since then – this exercise in democracy could haunt councillors as they set a budget for next year.

The council’s four formats – face to face interviews with people in their homes, web-based grid for local residents, businesses and organisations, paper questionnaires and a young people’s discussion group – generated 2,073 responses.

“The results showed an encouragingly high level of satisfaction with the current level of council services,” a spokesman said. “The percentage of residents who expressed dissatisfaction was only 8.1 per cent – one of the lowest of 130 similar consultations carried out over the last seven years.

“Residents recognised that services would need to change, and 70 per cent said they would prefer some level of increase in Council Tax, beyond inflation, rather than just cuts in service. The most favoured option was cuts in service totalling £3m, coupled with an increase in Council Tax of 84p per week.” [HDC’s Band D precept is currently £124.17 a year, equivalent to just under £2.40 per week.]

But, to comply with that overwhelming wish, councillors might have to fly in the face of demands from central Government.

Ministers have already made clear that they would take a dim view of Council Tax increases in the current economic climate and might reduce their contribution by less than contemplated if councils freeze their precept. They have also hinted that the same might hold good for 2012/13.

That will give all councils a dilemma – do they hike their precepts and miss out on cash from the Treasury? In HDC’s case, the public has made its view abundantly clear, so it will have to work out how to fund retained services in the short term.

Luckily, there is still a bit of cash left in the reserves from the council house sale. But in two years’ time, faced with the consequences of their opinions in new Council Tax bills, will they still be content to stump up 10 per cent more year-on-year or even the whole 30 per cent in one go?