25th January 2017
By Graham Smith
Vulnerable adults in Cornwall will have to do without an additional £7.7 million after Cornwall Council’s ruling cabinet this morning (Wednesday) rejected an invitation to raise council tax for the social care budget.
The government has allowed local councils to ring-fence an additional and immediate 1% tax rise for adult social care, which is recognised as being in crisis in many parts of the country. Conservative-controlled Surrey County Council recently announced its plans to hold a referendum on raising local taxes by 15% to help meet the needs of an ageing population.
Today the Liberal-Democrat/Independent coalition which controls Cornwall Council rejected the idea of a pre-local election tax increase, saying it was for the government to ensure that adult social care was adequately funded.
Cabinet members Jim McKenna and Andrew Wallis accused ministers of “passing the buck” to councils. “It cannot be right that we have a post-code tax,” said Mr Wallis.
Cabinet member Geoff Brown said “it’s appalling that the government is ducking its responsibility” and asking councils to raise taxes.
But backbencher Bob Egerton said he was disappointed that the cabinet has just “brushed aside” the opportunity to do something which could bring immediate relief to Cornwall’s vulnerable elderly. He thought that “nearly £8 million” would go some way to helping resolve current problems.
“It’s all very well saying that someone else should pay for it,” he said. “But that someone else is also a taxpayer. I think the public would support this.”
Mr Egerton said he was considering an amendment to the council’s budget and hoped he would get more than one vote in his support.
The current council budget, which has seen tax bills rise by 3.97%, includes an element of 2% which is ring-fenced for adult social care. The government recently announced it was prepared to increase this element to 3% for the next two years.
The “cap” on overall council tax increases for adult social care remains at 6% for the next three years - putting political responsibility for local priorities on ruling groups in local government. In Cornwall’s case this is currently the Liberal Democrat-Independent coalition, with elections in May.
If councils opt to raise council tax bills for adult social care earlier, they might face more difficult decisions later. If councils want to raise local taxes beyond these government limits, they must first hold a referendum. Surrey is thought to be the first local authority to hold a referendum on the funding issue.