Eastleigh Borough Council has frozen its Council Tax for 2017-18 – delivering a record 14-year period of real-term cuts in council tax for residents.
According to figures released by the council, the average Eastleigh Borough Council element for a Band D household this year remains at £130.07, or just over £2.50 per week.
Despite this the ruling Liberal Democrat’s record on council tax was called into question by opposition leader Cllr Judith Grajewski during a debate on the council’s budget.
Grajewski who is a Conservative member for Hiltingbury West, told councillors that it was only the basic council tax element that had been frozen. Precepts in the parishes had been forced to rise in order to fund devolved services so that although the basic average for a Band D house in Eastleigh might be £130, but in Hound parish for example, it is £252.
Cllr Grajewski also called planned above-inflation rises for services and charges “a disgrace” and said that rises for garden waste removal and cemetery charges “hit the most vulnerable and elderly residents.”
During the debate Liberal Democrat councillors contrasted Eastleigh’s 0% council tax rise with the 4.9% hike which is being implemented by Hampshire County Council.
In response Cllr Grajewski said that the County Council increase included 3% which was ring-fenced for social care – not a provision that the Borough has to budget for:
“I find it unbelievable that Liberal Democrat, Labour and some UkiP members on the county council voted against raising more money for adult social care when the whole country understands the increasing demands on this crucial service.”
Cllr Grajewski also said she was “very concerned” about the level of council borrowing.
Prudential Borrowing in order to purchase property for rental income has long been a strategy of the council to offset the combined effects of a reduction in the government grant and a freeze on council tax imposed by the government. As a result, the council has amassed a large portfolio of commercial property from which it derives an income but it is also servicing a debt that is set to rise to £240 million.
Cllr Grajewski commented:
“I know that the Revenue Support Grant is going and being more commercial is touted as the solution but I believe we have to be prudent with public money and not rack up so much debt.
” The Leader talks of Eastleigh being a small council that punches above its weight. Well, be careful because all that glistens is not gold.”
In a statement released after the meeting Eastleigh Borough Council Leader, Cllr Keith House, said:
”We will be freezing our Council Tax again this year. That represents a real terms cut in council tax for 14 years in a row.
“We believe this to be an unequalled record and commitment anywhere in the country and we can do this without significant reductions in our frontline services. This has been achieved in large part, due to our excellent record of sound financial management, and our nationally recognised programme of property investments.”