A councillor has questioned whether it is “morally and ethically right” to raise council tax bills across Lichfield and Burntwood rather than using financial reserves to balance the books.
Members of Lichfield District Council this week voted to up its share of the bill for households by 2.78%.
But Cllr Joanne Grange, independent member for Chadsmead ward, told a meeting of the local authority that the decision should be questioned.
“Going out and saying ‘it’s fine, Lichfield District Council has reserves it could use but we’re going out for the maximum we could collect on the council tax’ – that doesn’t sit very comfortably with me.
“I’m not convinced this is the right thing to do.
“It’s 9p per week which is not a lot on a Band D property, but where we know we have people already struggling is it morally and ethically right that we are increasing the maximum when we have reserves that can cover us?”Cllr Joanne Grange
Cllr Rob Strachan, cabinet member responsible for finance, said he took no joy in having to put up council tax bills – but he insisted the reserves needed to be kept in order to plug future funding gaps.
“I’d remind Cllr Grange that this assumes all reserves are depleted in year five [of the medium term financial strategy].
“I’m not creating a mountain of gold that I squat on like a dragon – this is about creating a reserve that gets us through the next hump.
“We’d managed to push back the point at which we run down the shutters by a year.
“I do take some heart from the projections of a new roaring twenties, but I don’t think I’d stake the house on it just now.”Cllr Rob Strachan, Lichfield District Council
Cllr Grange also questioned the role a consultation document had played in helping to set the tone for the budget set by Cllr Strachan.
“I find it fascinating that so much credence is given on the report as a guiding document when there were 150 responses to the survey.
“I don’t think any statistician would say that is a representative sample to draw conclusions on what our residents want.”Cllr Joanne Grange, Lichfield District Council
“I don’t want to put council tax up”
Cllr Strachan said that while he would like to have seen more responses, there were points that could be taken from those who did reply to the consultation.
“Cllr Grange is right, it is perhaps disappointingly low. Very few people get excited about local government finance until they read the headlines.
“But I think that some of the qualitative data was very mature.
“We had a number of people who said it wasn’t the end of the world if council tax goes up by £5 as long as you protect services – that is what this budget does.
“It’s a budget of necessity. I don’t want to put council tax up – I hate it, but it’s a necessity in this environment.
“It would be wholly wrong of me to freeze it for the sake of freezing it when I can actually do what I’m doing and then use it to redistribute funds to keep this council open and doing what it does best.”Cllr Rob Strachan, Lichfield District Council