Stoke-on-Trent council tax to be frozen- but cuts are on the way
COUNCIL tax will be frozen next year but residents are being warned to prepare for cuts of up to £23 million.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council will not increase bills from April amid fears that families will refuse to pay in the same way they wouldn't for the "poll tax."
The concern has grown because more people will pay council tax for the first time as the Government cuts benefits.
Leaders confirmed today they are drawing up plans to cut between £20 and £23 million in 2013/14, which will again hit frontline services.
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But the Government's warning that councils raising tax by more than two per cent must hold a referendum has led to the authority ruling out increased taxes as a way of dealing with the shortfall.
Council and Labour group leader Mohammed Pervez said: "It's a choice between increasing tax and generating income to help save services, or not raising the council tax and having to make extra savings. In essence, there is absolutely no point wasting more taxpayers' money on a referendum when I already know that the people won't accept a council tax rise.
"This is also fairer for our residents. People are already warning that the Tory Government's welfare reforms will be another poll tax and a tax increase would only increase the burden on those who are being told to pay for the first time."
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has confirmed councils will receive a cash payment equivalent to a one per cent increase in return for freezing bills.
The Labour-run authority controversially became one of only 35 in the country to refuse the Government's cash incentive to freeze tax for 2012/13. Its decision saw bills increase by 3.49 per cent to £788.97 for Band A properties – which will now stay the same until at least April 2014.
Mr Pervez said: "We had to think long and hard about which way to go this year. Government cuts made it very difficult in the first year, even more difficult last year, and it is getting incredibly tough now."
The council will not know until December how much it has to save next year, but its saving estimate is based on advice from the Local Government Association.
Mr Pervez added: "Being kept in the dark on our funding settlement is ridiculous because we've got to deliver a legal budget by the end of February."
Jim Gibson, chairman of Chell Heath Residents' Association, said: "It's good news that they've frozen it, but there's plenty of other areas they should be trimming the fat from. They should cut councillors' allowances for a start."
He added: "It's all very well freezing council tax, if they then go and blow it on new civic centres we don't need then it's no good to anyone."
Councillor Dave Conway, leader of the opposition City Independents, said: "They were in a no-win situation with the threat of holding a referendum. Commonsense has prevailed."
Staffordshire County Council has already confirmed it won't increase its portion of the council tax.