In recent years the Tory-led government has been offering councils money to freeze council tax. Unfortunately the money offered has not been at a level which has offset cuts in government funding. This has therefore shrunk council budgets and meant devastating cuts to back-office and frontline council services across the country.
The freeze grant deals have not all been the same. They have been getting less and less attractive. The first one (2011/12) was equivalent to a 2.5% council tax increase and was over a number of years. The second one (2012/13) was for the same amount, but for one year only – and so 10% of councils, both Labour and Conservative, rejected it and put council tax up. This year's offer is the meanest yet at 1%. It is over two years though – to lessen the financial cliff we will drop off – but is still the worse deal yet.
As was said by the administration last year, public services have already been cut back to the bone. Taking that as your starting position and then having to make £16 million worth of cuts – as Reading is predicted to have to make – despite Labour councillors unwillingness to say it surely means more cuts to frontline services.
Council’s that rejected the freeze grant last year did so to stop the council tax base being further eroded so that they would be able to fund decent public services for residents especially the vulnerable. Unfortunately in Reading we accepted the freeze, have eroded our council tax base and will have to make more cuts than necessary because of this.
Reading's budget hasn't been published by the administration yet, but rest assured it won't be pretty.