Cornwall Council today agreed a Lib Dem proposal for a council tax freeze next year which will save a Band D household £31.11.
We faced the choice of asking residents to pay more to maintain the current level of services or accepting the government's offer of a grant to freeze council tax next year. For us this was no choice. We cannot justify asking residents to pay a penny more than we have to.
From saying over the past month that they were not prepared to discuss council tax levels until next year, the Conservative leadership have performed a hurried u-turn and were today prepared to accept the Liberal Democrat proposal of a council tax freeze. What is clear, however, is that the administration is split down the middle on the key issue of council tax with three of the four independent members voting for a 3% rise.
Far from their rhetoric of going early and being bold, the Conservative administration has been reduced to following the Liberal Democrats in doing what is right for local residents. It is clear that the Cabinet is split down the middle on the key issue of council tax and they are failing to deliver what is best for the people of Cornwall.
The Liberal Democrat council tax freeze will save a Band D council tax payer £31.11 next year. That may not be a huge amount, but it will be a welcome contribution to the household kitty of many Cornish families.
Whilst the vote today was pretty clear cut, the final council tax decision cannot legally be taken until February when the full final budget is agreed.
However, the Conservative led administration also accepted three other Liberal Democrat amendments. The first will establish a pot of money to help fund community bus services. The second will begin the programme of much needed investment in our harbours. The final amendment is one which we proposed last year and which was defeated. I'm curious (but delighted) that they have changed their minds now and agreed to reinforce the power of scrutiny committees with our amendment that changes to the budget once agreed cannot go ahead without being agreed first by scrutiny.
Despite the administration accepting these islands of certainty, the Lib Dems had made it clear from the start that we could not vote for the budget. This was mainly because we still do not know all the necessary details. Last year we said the same and it proved to be true with mid year crises in parking, public toilets and buses. The Leader was good enough to hold his hands up to two of these. We still don't feel that all the details have been worked out and, until we are sure that there will be no nasty surprises in the coming year, we won't be backing the budget even though it contains some undoubtedly good elements.
In the end though, the administration got their budget through although they had quite a few abstentions and votes against from within their own ranks.
UPDATE - Jeremy Rowe's take on the budget is here.