The council have frozen council tax rates for the third year in a row.
But they’re likely to have to cut 164 jobs.
Supporters of the freeze say they’ve done ‘what most people in Cornwall want’, and have chosen wasteful areas like ‘strategic services’ to cut back.
Opponents are angry that the council failed to make similar cuts to stop the poor suddenly facing £300 a year bills, and they say the Tories and Liberals just mainly want to stop their middle class and wealthy voters paying two per-cent more tax.
Today’s motion to freeze rates was carried by just 52 votes to 49; three crucial abstentions allowed the Yes vote to go through.
The vote supports a Lib Dem authored budget backed by most of the Conservative group.
The monetary manifesto plans spending of 5425,727million pounds of your money over the next financial year.
The tax increase option which was narrowly defeated would have seen a hike of 1.97 per-cent.
The council put out a press release giving the example of that meaning that a Band D property householder would have paid an extra 42p a week – whereas now they can’t be taxed above the existing £1,244,41 rate.
The Lib Dems budget includes a number of other classically liberal measures, like cutting back parking charges.
Deputy Lib Dem leader Alex Folkes said: “What we did is we went for a freeze affecting everyone. Yes it’s a freeze for the wealthy. But also for people on middle and lower incomes aswell.
“With Council tax – the bands are set, the proportions for each is set, so we couldn’t just tax the more expensive houses, but decrease it for the poor, that’s not allowed.”
Alex said he still opposed what he called the ‘Cornwall Poor Tax’ – the introduction of enforced 25 per-cent council tax payments for people on low or no income – but the council had had no choice in the matter.
He explained: “The Lib Dems were and we remain vehemently opposed to the 25 per-cent tax hike for the poorest families in cornwall.
“We proposed the retention of the current system – I bow to nobody on this point – the Cornwall Poor Tax is horrible, it will do more to harm the lowest paid families in cornwall than anything i can imagine
“But the Govt decreed we had to have a scheme in place – I wish we could have changed it, but we couldn’t.”
He went on: “With this budget we have done what we can within the law; we’re investing in repairing the roads, cutting parking charges, and in cleaning up our beaches and verges, so we think this is a good budget.
“It’s doing what we think the residents want.
“We’re going to raise money by collecting more council tax – it’s up to 97.7 per-cent already.
“There’s a big budget on communications and strategy, and we’ll be making £400,000 of cutbacks mainly in strategy. After all – when it’s a choice between fixing potholes or having another strategy document – we know which side we’re on.
“Also, we need to look at the budget for agency workers. Two years ago we were spending three quarters of a million pounds a month on agency. The current bill is about 1.1million pounds a month.
“What we’re saying is we can’t cut that completely because some agency staff are in a frontline role. But we think we can take it back to the level of two years ago. And personally I think it’s still a bit too much.
“The reason it’s boomed is because of the ‘flexible workforce’ mantra. We take on a lot of staff who don’t have employment rights – but it costs a lot more – almost double sometimes – for agency staff.
“There’s something like fifty vacancies in social services that are being filled by agency staff, which means we are paying sometimes almost double for those roles, and the money is going to agencies.”
Although by ‘front line work’ the council and its members also mean librarians, one-stop shop workers, binmen, road workers and firemen – a ceaselessly expanding area of ‘frontline services’ is in fact social workers.
Social work accounts for almost half of council spending. It is a widely reviled profession mired in almost constant controversy and allegations of child abuse and human rights violations. There is a massive campaign for its abolition and/or reform.
None of the councillors we spoke to in the course of compiling this article suggested there should be any axeing of the social work budget, only that permanent staff would be cheaper than agency staff.
Here’s a full breakdown of the cuts
Council tax freeze 2013/2014 cuts
Adult Care and Support £855,000
Children, Schools and Families £923,000
Shared Services (libraries / £365,000
(one stop shops/ contact centre/
revenue and benefit staff etc)
Strategy, Localism and Communications £297,000
People and Organisational Development £164,000
Information Services £366,000
Legal, Democratic, Procurement £255,000
and Election Services
Indy Cllr Andrew Wallis voted against the freeze.
He explained: “What’s happened today is only going to hit services. Across the board. Adult social care, childrens – there are some large scale cuts. The staffing numbers will be reduced.
“The agency staff we’re talking about aren’t the highly paid consultants we always latch on to. Paul Masters (the interim chief executive) said today – we’re looking at 135 jobs and 29 in localism strategy in corporate comms.
“Of course nothing’s been done about the very very highly paid staff at the top – they’re protected by statute. They’re never going to get rid of a Director.
“I believe something needs to be done in that area – there should be a legal review of the high wages the Directors earn.
He asked: “42p a week this is over – not even the price of a Mars Bar – isn’t that a price worth paying to protect services?”
And the Porthleven councillor explained: “I voted against the freeze because sometimes it’s worth paying a bit extra. I mean Band A is just ten pence – a millionaire would have paid just £63 extra a year.
“And this is the same authority that’s going to make people on benefit have to pay £300 a year in council tax.
“They can find the extra five or six million quid to freeze this – they could find it to sub £63 to a millionaire – but they couldn’t find it to protect those most in need.”
The news that the poorest people in Cornwall were now going to have to pay council tax came as corporation Capita – whose other work includes collecting the TV license – were employing lie detectors in phone-calls to householders.
They brought the machinery in as the council embarked on a fresh round of targeting taxpayers by sending threatening letters to everyone in the Duchy asking if they were letting out their spare rooms.
The threats contained a line saying that if they didn’t get a reply and the letter was ignored, they’d assume the householder was no longer eligible for the single persons discount, and demand more money off them.
Todays meeting considered the issue of Capita using lie detectors, but it’s been deferred to a committee meeting. No-one we spoke to knew if that meant Capita were, or weren’t already using the dodgy software to decide who lied to them.
Cllr Wallis went on: “This Govt and the Tories in general like to make out that people on £71 a week are scroungers – but most of them are hard working people trying to make ends meet with two or three jobs and they get a bit of help.”
He concluded: “What we really need – and I don’t think we can do it during this administration but it should be a job for the next administration – is a legal review of senior officers salaries.”
“The fact is, people think you could vote just to remove the highly paid posts – but you can’t – it’s illegal; the highly paid directors would take you to Industrial Tribunal because they hadn’t done anything wrong and they’d win.”
“So there needs to be a big review on senior officers salaries. The next authority will have to look at that – a legal review, instead of shuffling around upstairs.
“I’d vote for that – make it a different world out there.”
Both Cllr Folkes and Cllr Wallis have personally found themselves unable to pay the council tax in the past and been threatened with court.
Cllr Wallis fessed up immediately and explained he simply couldn’t afford his bill at the time, Cllr Folkes has never commented on his non-payment and continues to maintain it was a private matter.