Council tax rise forced on us, says leader

Lord Smith
Lord Smith

WIGAN’S council tax freeze will thaw in 2016 as residents are to be hit with a minimum two per cent rise to help plug an adult social care budget gap.

Council leader Lord Smith said the town hall plans to “reluctantly” accept the Government’s precept offer, dubbed the “Osborne Tax.”

The health and social care of our elderly and vulnerable population is one of the most important duties of the council. This is being forced on us by the chancellor to make up for years of inadequate funding for social care

Lord Peter Smith

Borough residents have enjoyed a rates freeze since 2013 with it being one of the major terms of the council’s Deal agreement.

It marks the second major policy change by the town hall in recent months following the decision to spend £63m of reserves.

Lord Smith said: “The health and social care of our elderly and vulnerable population is one of the most important duties of the council. This is being forced on us by the chancellor to make up for years of inadequate funding for social care.

“We have transformed and improved services while delivering huge savings over the past five years but it is becoming increasingly difficult to cover the demands placed on us.”

Under current legislation councils opting to raise tax by two per cent or more would require public approval through a referendum.

But chancellor George Osborne announced last month such a rise would be permitted if the funds were ringfenced for adult social care.

Deputy chief executive Paul McKevitt hinted last month the offer would be hard to resist even though it would not cover the borough’s rising social care costs.

Lord Smith said: “The £2m which the Osborne Tax will raise is not nearly enough to cover the increasing demands placed on us by an aging population. However, we are not in a position to refuse it.”

And the town hall has not ruled out a further rise to generate funds for other services although they will be limited to a 1.999 per cent rise unless they take it to a referendum. A public consultation on tax plans is currently taking place as part of the Deal for the Future scheme.

Lord Smith added that the precept was “doubly unfair” as it penalised councils with low council tax bases - as these are also the councils likely to have the greatest social care demands.

He said: “Councils that have the greatest need in social care services are the least likely to be able to raise what’s needed through this measure.

“This shows it is a poorly thought out policy but councils like Wigan and others across Greater Manchester are in a position where they are unable to refuse it. More people are living longer and with more complex dependencies than ever before.

“We have a huge task on our hands along with our partners to deliver a vital and high quality service under such financial restrictions.

“I hope residents understand the difficult position we are in. We have to do what is necessary to maintain social care services that are high quality, safe and personalised for those who are in need in our communities.”

As part of the original Deal agreement, the council promised to freeze tax and protect frontline services if residents chipped in by supporting community based projects and improving recycling rates.