Council approves 'lowest ever' council tax rise

DEVON County Council has approved a 2.89 per cent rise in council tax, the lowest since the council began in 1998. The rise means that people living in Band D properties can expect an increase of �30.78 on last year's council tax bill. Liberal Democrat Le

DEVON County Council has approved a 2.89 per cent rise in council tax, the lowest since the council began in 1998.The rise means that people living in Band D properties can expect an increase of �30.78 on last year's council tax bill.Liberal Democrat Leader of the Council, Brian Greenslade, said the authority's �1.2 billion budget would fund big investments in the local economy to support jobs, training and business opportunities, while maintaining vital public services.He said: "This is a solid, safe, dependable budget for stability in these financially uncertain times. "Support for Devon's local economy is high on this council's priorities and we will be putting money in to support business growth, jobs, training and economic regeneration to help our great county weather this global economic storm."He added: "We are making sure we can provide essential public services to working families on low incomes and really keep council tax down to help those on fixed incomes."The new budget features a �5.75 million investment designed to stimulate the local economy, while �48m will be put aside for local projects across Devon, funded by the sale of Exeter airport. It also includes a �79m investment in roads, road safety and cycling; �1.25m for flood prevention measures; �255.8m for adult social care, with more than �42.7m for community-based services that support people to be able to continue living in their own homes for as long as possible.An additional �1.7m will go to special schools, while mainstream schools will receive an extra �2.3m to support children with special educational needs.A further �2.4m will be invested in children's social care, including additional investment to safeguard children in light of the Baby P case.The budget was approved at yesterday's (Thursday) full Council meeting by 33 votes to 23, with five abstentions.But, Cllr John Hart, Shadow Conservative Leader, described it as a "spend now, pay later" budget that gives "a poisoned chalice to the party in control after the council elections in June".He criticised the poor level of Government grant for Devon schools and warned that to make the budget balance, the Liberal Democrat administration was planning to use millions of pounds from reserves.He said: "As well as using �4.5m from the second homes money budget and �2m from the reserve insurance fund, the Leader is also using another �11.5m from dedicated funds but only programming to put back some �5min this year."There is very little slack left within the county finances," added Cllr Hart, who warned the council's debts could rise to over �650 million and would cost some �35 million in interest charges, equal to 10 per cent of council tax. But Cllr Greenslade said the use of reserves in the current climate was perfectly justified.He said: "We expect that in 12 months time, the county council will still have reserves, balances, and provisions of �60 million."Given the Conservative's attack on the budget, we would take their views more seriously if they had proposed amendments to the budget. "For the second year running, they did not suggest any amendments. They have also refused to serve on a value for money task group being led by the Liberal Democrats.


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