THE leader of Woking Borough Council has described the latest rise in council tax as being ‘unavoidable’.
Councillor John Kingsbury presented this year’s budget to the chamber on Friday, highlighting a 1.9 per cent rise. The changes equate to an 8p per week increase in bills for a Band D taxpayer, and 16p per week for a Band H resident.
Last year when the local authority approved a similar hike, it was met with the disapproval of Liberal Democrats, who argued that Woking should have accepted a grant in order to freeze rising costs.
But Cllr Kingsbury last week described the rise as only a ‘modest increase’ and defended the Conservative-led council’s decision.
He explained: “I believe this modest increase is unavoidable if we are to protect services for generations to come; taking the Freeze Grant would have been a short-term electioneering gesture and would have left a bigger shortfall in future years.
“In my previous budget statements I said that we still had tough years ahead of us, probably as far as 2020 or even beyond, if the Government are to balance the public finances.”
Cllr Kingsbury added that the council will be looking to continue their commitment to economic growth so that they can become independent of Government handouts.
He said: “I believe the strong Conservative leadership we have shown at this council, together with our continued commitment to investment in economic growth and community facilities, has enabled us to meet the needs of local residents, and I hope we will continue to do so for years to come.
“The economy remains a challenge. While the outlook appears more promising, economic growth is still modest and global uncertainties mean we need to remain vigilant. We still have a lot of work to do to secure Woking’s economic future free of grants.
“The budget the Conservative administration has recommended ensures continuity of services and requires an ongoing need to improve cost efficiency.
“I am also pleased to thank the members opposite. I am grateful to them for the many occasions over the past year when they have supported our initiatives. I do hope they will also support tonight’s budget and will continue supporting our administration next year and for the years to come.”
However, Woking’s Liberal Democrat Leader, Will Forster, does not approve, and the Lib Dem opposition have criticised the Conservatives for hitting local residents with what they called a ‘double whammy’, and have requested that they accept the Freeze Grant.
Cllr Forster said: “Conservative-run Woking Borough Council will be hitting local residents with a double whammy of raising council tax by 1.9 per cent and hiking council housing rents by four times inflation.
“The borough council’s share of council tax will increase by 1.9 per cent in April – a rise 0.1 per cent short of the sum that would require them to hold a referendum.
“They were offered the option of freezing the tax by accepting a Government grant equivalent to a 1 per cent council tax increase, and would only have had to find the remaining 0.9 per cent within existing budgets.”
He went on to describe the hike as “completely unnecessary” and suggested that the local authority are bolstering their coffers at the expense of residents.
Cllr Forster added: “The council might be pleading poverty to justify increasing it, but in reality all it is doing is adding to already substantial funds. The proceeds of the increase will effectively be squirrelled away in the reserves.
“Enough cash is stashed in council coffers to allow a freeze with maintained services. We put forward a plan for this and the ruling party chose to completely ignore it.”