08:00 Saturday 16 February 2013

Council tax row heats up as Tories reveal freeze

Written byBY ADRIAN JENKINS

CONSERVATIVE community leaders are set to freeze council tax – lumbering themselves with what Labour claimed would be a ‘massive black hole’.

Bob Wheeler, Tory leader of South Derbyshire District Council, took the unusual step of confirming the planned zero per cent rise in the authority’s element of the charge after the proposal leaked out during area forum meetings.

He said: “For many years, Labour leaders described council tax (rises) as only an extra packet of crisps a week or only an extra pint of beer.

“But it all adds up, and over the past three years council tax freezes in Derbyshire will have saved council tax payers a substantial amount at a time when many of their incomes are either static or reducing and other costs, like gas, electricity and petrol, have been going up.”

If the council freezes its charge, the Government has pledged to reimburse it with the equivalent of a one per cent increase, payable for two years.

Paul Dunn, who represents the Midway ward for Labour on the authority, claimed the offer was a ‘bribe’ and that the freeze, which will reduce the authority’s resources by more than £560,000 to 2017-18, would leave a catastrophic ‘black hole’.

He said: “There’s only one thing that can happen: jobs will go and services will be cut.”

Councillor Dunn said the Tories should increase the tax by up to 1.96 per cent, costing average households five pence a week while making the hole in its finances smaller.

But Councillor Wheeler said: “It certainly won’t mean service cuts.

“It would be disappointing, but not surprising, if it impinged on jobs; but since we started our efficiency drive in earnest we’ve created a net 20 jobs between ourselves and Northgate.”

He said the Tories had always striven to ‘minimise the burden of local government’ by finding efficiencies while maintaining or improving services.

Councillor Wheeler said: “That is our policy now and the policy we will maintain.”

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