The leader of Herefordshire’s Conservative councillors says his 14-strong group “will struggle to support” a proposed 5 per cent rise in the county’s council tax when it goes before all councillors for a final vote in two weeks’ time.

Coun Jonathan Lester told a council cabinet meeting yesterday (January 26): “Our main concern is the impact this will have on families and their household budgets.

“People’s council tax is already very high, and by raising it yet again, in the face of skyrocketing inflation and fuel bills, is something we struggle to support.”

He acknowledged: “It’s extremely difficult to negotiate these financial situations,” but said the Government “can't continually to increase local government funding with a blank cheque, because this will just increase the national debt”.


He pointed out that a draft settlement, announced by the Government just before Christmas and expected to be confirmed early next month, foresees a 9 per cent rise in central funding of local authorities.

He acknowledged that decade ago, the council’s revenue support grant from central Government “was much, much more, but that’s not how local government can be sustainably funded any more”.

The draft budget foresees £14 million worth of savings in council spending.

But Coun Lester said: “The Conservative group are very sceptical that those savings can be achieved. Just to balance the books this year, this administration has had to delve deeply into reserves, which are significantly down.”

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True Independents leader Bob Matthews said: “The writing has been on the wall for years that we have to provide more for ourselves.”

Coun John Harrington, cabinet member for transport, said: “If you don’t expect or don’t want any funding to come back from central Government, and think we can survive purely on our own income, then you’re wrong.

“We are desperate to find those efficiencies which I know you also care strongly about. But we will not be able to continue as a viable local authority without proper Government funding – it’s as simple as that.”

Coun Matthews responded: “I’m all for Government properly funding local authorities. But we still have to put our own house in order and grow our economy.”

Cabinet member for finance Coun Liz Harvey, responsible for drawing up the draft budget, said: “No shadow budget has been developed by any opposition groups wanting to provide an alternative approach to delivering council services the other side of the local elections in May.”

The Government also announced in November that it would raise the permitted limit on council tax increases from 3 to 5 per cent for the coming financial year.

Coun Harvey asked Coun Lester if he was “supportive of the Conservative Government’s expectation that councils maximise their local tax raising, by applying the maximum increase in council tax, which is an assumption in the local government settlement”.

To which Coun Lester said the decision to raise council tax “is this council’s, and nobody else’s, and that’s what the debate will be on February 10”.

Since last March, the ruling Independents for Herefordshire / Green Party coalition has lacked a majority on the council, leaving it requiring at least two votes from councillors of other parties to pass the budget.

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