FREEZING or raising council tax in South Gloucestershire will be at the heart of a heated debate next week.
The local authority is due to consider two options as it sets its budget for 2013/2014 on Monday before a final decision on Wednesday, February 20. Members of the council will have to decide whether to increase council tax by two per cent or freeze it for another year, the alternative favoured by the Conservatives.
Central government cut expenditure by two per cent this year forcing South Gloucestershire Council to alter its budget accordingly and potentially raise tax to save an extra £1.1 million.
But the Conservatives have warned this is not the solution. They will propose to keep tax at its current level and instead save £900,000 by freezing the council’s provision for inflation, at a meeting of the policy and resources committee on Monday, February 11.
The council’s finance officers are budgeting for an inflation increase of two per cent (£1.1million), along with a two per cent council tax increase for the 2013/14.
Saving on inflation costs would bring the authority’s need for council tax rise down to one per cent – allowing access to a government grant that would cancel out the one per cent increase, acccording to the party.
Cllr John Calway (Con, Longwell Green), leader of the Conservative Group on the hung council, said: "Instead of protecting the council budget from rising inflation, we want to protect hardworking local households who are struggling with the rising cost of living and we believe that a third freeze in their council tax bills is the best way to achieve this.
"South Gloucestershire’s part of the council tax is one household item that does not have to increase because of our plan to freeze it by freezing the council’s provision for inflation – it’s a straightforward swap."
A Labour group spokesman said the party had already set out its own budget priorities taking into account a potential two per cent rise in council tax.
Yet, Labour councillors would support a council tax freeze if it allowed, he said, members to achieve what they wanted.
"Our budget is based on a two per cent (increase), which is what all the paperwork from the officers assumes," he said.
"However if it emerges that we can achieve what we want with a freeze, we would certainly support that. We will continue to explore that option."