County criticised over cuts as it agrees to freeze council tax
A TORY decision to freeze council tax in Derbyshire has been criticised by the county's Labour group.
The decision not to raise tax for 2013-14 means Derbyshire County Council will get an extra grant from the Government, worth £2.8 million.
But opposition leader councillor Anne Western argued that a 1.99% rise was the better option, as it would generate £5.5 million for the authority.
Speaking at a full meeting of the council yesterday, Mrs Western said: "It needs to be understood that the maximum increase of 1.99% would add only £20 to the council tax bill of a band D property – that's 40p a week."
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But council leader Andrew Lewer defended the freeze, arguing "these are very tough times for people" and that his Conservative administration was "proud" to be freezing council tax for a third consecutive year.
Mr Lewer said: "We don't buy this 'it's only a small increase' argument. Increases add up over the year. We want to protect local taxpayers."
All sides of the council chamber agreed that cuts to the authority's funding made balancing the overall budget a challenge.
But Labour said the Tories' stance of "trying to protect people's finances but cutting services" was "absolutely despicable".
Labour said its policy was to protect services by asking taxpayers to pay a bit more.
The council's proposed budget for 2013-14 – which includes £26.8 million worth of cuts – was approved, despite opposition from Labour. It is part of £127 million the authority needs to save over the next four years – at a cost of 1,400 jobs.
During heated exchanges, Labour hit out at the Tories for offsetting the cuts by "salami slicing" departments. Mrs Western said there needed to be more "prioritising" as to what services should be protected.
But Mr Lewer countered: "We do not have luxury services at Derbyshire County Council. We value all departments and that's why we've spread the cuts across the board."
With the county council elections now 83 days away, Mrs Western said: "I sincerely hope this is the last budget the Conservatives will ever set in Derbyshire.
"There's nothing in it that indicates the Tories know how to get this council through this difficult time."
Tory cabinet member Simon Spencer said: "Labour has challenged every single proposal we have put forward but, the ironic thing is, not at one single time over the last four years have we heard how they would address the situation themselves."
The Lib Dem group leader, Stephen Flitter, voted in favour of the council tax freeze but said he was worried.
He said: "Sadly, soon, we will come to the stage where we are providing only the services that are affordable – and that isn't servicing the needs of Derbyshire people."