Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Council rejects all options on council tax benefit

It was a case of good news / bad news at today's Cornwall Council meeting where council tax benefit cuts were on the agenda.

The good news was that the Conservative proposal to impose a 25% rise in council tax on the poorest families in Cornwall was defeated by 43 votes to 37.

The bad news was that the Liberal Democrat alternative to continue with the current scheme was also, very narrowly, lost by 44 votes to 41. A number of councillors were controversially excluded from the meeting because of their relationship to people who receive council tax benefit.

That means that there is currently no proposition on the table and councillors must reconvene before the end of January in order to seek a solution.

My argument was that it is wrong to expect families which have no spare income to pay anything between £250 and £1000 a year. Most simply cannot afford to do so and if they cannot pay, they won't. The council will therefore be tied up with endless court procedures, summonses and bailiffs. Instead, I argued that we should be using the new income from closing the loopholes on second home and empty homes council tax - which is the same amount as the cut to benefit funding.

My colleague, Ruth Lewarne, asked the Leader whether he had met with any groups representing people affected by his proposals - or any individuals likely to be affected. He confirmed that he hadn't, saying that he was too busy to do so. In a similar vein, Cllr Ferguson said:
"I don't know anything about these people"
when asked about people who would be affected by her proposal.

Cllr Ferguson, the cabinet member for finance, proposed a hardship fund of £1 million to be found by cutting the higher education bursary. This idea was heavily defeated, partly on the basis that any scheme that requires a hardship fund of around a quarter of the total amount has not been properly thought through.

The council will seek a fresh alternative before the 29th January but Liberal Democrats will be seeking to ensure that this on the basis that the poorest families who cannot afford to pay should not be made to.

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