Council tax bills to increase by tiny amount

COUNCIL tax payers in the Morecambe and Lancaster area will see only a tiny increase in their bills from next month.

Many homes will see bills rise by less than a quarter of one per cent after the majority of authorities which levy the charge decided it should be frozen for the coming financial year.

Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council and Lancashire Fire Authority all decided against increasing their levies, but Lancashire Police Authority will impose a 2.5 per cent rise.

Morecambe Town Council’s precept has by increased £200 to £220,700 but the move will have little to no effect on residents.

At last Wednesday’s budget meeting, councillors reduced overall spending by around six per cent to £20.1m – a £1.29m reduction on the 2011/12 budget.

Some of these savings could be achieved by freezing posts when an employee leaves, or through voluntary redundancy or early retirement, but the council has yet to say how many job cuts that could involve.

Increased charges for some parking tariffs and for using leisure facilities were criticised by opposition councillors, as was a possible 3.5 per cent rise in council tax for the year 2013/14.

Morecambe Bay Independents leader David Kerr said: “My main concern is people are just getting hit, hit, hit with more costs and just see doom and gloom on the news. The Government grant (in return for a freeze) may not be there but that doesn’t mean we can’t freeze council tax again.

“I’ve not seen evidence we are tackling that issue.”

In response, deputy council leader Janice Hanson said: “People are getting a bit confused here. We haven’t said it’s going to be 3.5 per cent. It’s up to 3.5 per cent but it may be nowhere near that.

“We’ve done extremely well this year to get it down to 0 per cent and next year we don’t know.”

Despite this, most councillors agreed with the vast majority of the budget proposals.

Councillor Kerr said: “I think it was really always going to be a thankless task no matter who did it.”

Councillors rubber stamped £300,000 to help revitalise public spaces around Market Square in Lancaster city centre, and £200,000 to improve New Town Square and Euston Road in Morecambe.

There is also £99,000 to ensure nine PCSOs will continue to operate and £45,000 for a new council apprenticeship scheme.

Councillors also put £40,000 aside to develop proposals for a Morecambe Business Improvement District.

Council leader councillor Eileen Blamire said: “I have to confess that I expected it (presenting the budget) to be a very difficult task and I approached it with some trepidation. However I have been amazed at how relatively easily it came together.

“The reduction in spending has been managed through careful budgeting and efficiency savings.

“In spite of this we have been able to protect vital services and facilities. We have even been able to have some growth.”