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Council tax rise of nearly two per cent confirmed as budget is agreed
2:40pm Saturday 15th February 2014 in News
A COUNCIL tax rise for households across Worcestershire has been confirmed - as well as major cuts to spending.
Worcestershire County Council has approved its 2014/15 budget, which will see taxpayers fork out more for the first time since 2010.
A 1.9 per cent rise will add at least £19.88 to the average yearly band D bill of £1,453 from April.
The end increase will nudge closer to £30 once rises from the police, fire service and district councils are factored in, with confirmation on the final bills due by Tuesday, February 25.
The budget at County Hall contains spending reductions of nearly £25 million, and was backed after lengthy arguments between all the parties.
It includes removing around £1.9 million from the £3 million spent on public transport in Worcestershire, and slashing 60 per cent off a yearly £15 million pot for vulnerable people.
During a full council meeting, held on February 13, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats made bids to alter the budget, with both looking to save more bus routes from the chop, but it was scuppered.
The debate took place amid a protest outside the building, with Unison staff turning up armed with whistles, bells and even a vuvuzela to make as much noise as possible.
Jim Price, from Worcestershire's Unison branch, who organised 'Blow the Whistle', said: "Staff are fed up and depressed - they are fearful for their jobs and the message we've got for the council leadership is that they've had enough."
During the debate Labour wanted to save the entire £3 million buses spending, put an extra £500,000 towards domestic violence funding, and put £3.2 million extra towards vulnerable people.
It wanted to take one-off money from the reserve pot, including £600,000 on environmental spending like roads maintenance, and £500,000 from adult services, to pay for it but it was voted down.
The Liberal Democrats, backed by a wave of new councillors from other parties elected in 2013, also put forward an alternative budget based on spending £2 million on buses, a pay rise for the lowest paid staff and £1.5 extra spending on roads, residential care and vulnerable 16-25 year-olds.
But the bid failed after the group said the council should pay for part of it by slashing £450,000 from economic development in 2014/15 and nearly £1 million the following year.
Councillor Marc Bayliss, from the Conservatives, called it "nonsense" while Councillor Richard Udall, for Labour, labelled it "economic suicide".
The budget includes an extra £4 million towards children's social care, as the numbers of children who need intervention continues to rise.
The spending will be paid for from the council tax rise.
It also contains an extra £500,000 into roads maintenance, after the public said it should remain a big priority during widespread public consultations.
But the budget will result in job losses, with at least 600 posts going by 2018, and as many services as possible being handed over to new providers, a move known as commissioning.
There are hopes many organisations who take over services will take council staff with them, limiting the impact on the economy.
Councillor Alan Amos, from Labour, said the Conservatives budget would make the council "an empty, hollow shell" but the leadership said it was "a rational, planned approach" to reduced funding and more demand on services.
Councillor Adrian Hardman, the leader, said: "We acknowledge the future is going to be different, but we are not anti-reform, we embrace reform."
He added that it was "a budget that closes the gap" and will put the council "on a sustainable footing".
Around £99 million needs to be cut from spending by 2018.