COUNCILLORS allowances in Worcestershire are set to be frozen for the seventh successive year - as the prospect of a council tax rise moved closer.
The Conservative leadership at County Hall has endorsed a £325 million budget for 2015/16 ahead of a crunch vote this Thursday.
During a cabinet meeting Tory politicians admitted it was "controversial" and "very difficult" to call for a 1.9 per cent rise, which will add around £20.54 to the average band D bill in the county from April.
The final budget papers reveals:
- Councillors allowances, which start at £9,019 with add-ons for more responsibilities such as £31,074 for being leader, will be frozen yet again
- Another £23.8 million will need to be cut, but despite that an extra £2 million is going towards adult social care and a further £4 million into dealing with vulnerable children, paid for by the tax rise
- A 'black hole' of £2.4 million no longer exists because extra house building has led to better council tax income
- After concern over the county's footways an extra £400,000 has been allocated towards improving them, taking the total kitty to £1.2 million
- £2 million will go on new highways improvements, while a £10,000 yearly fund for each councillor on worthy projects in their area will again be made available
The budget will be voted on by all 57 councillors on Thursday before it kicks in.
Councillor Adrian Hardman, the leader, said: "By freezing the allowances for a seventh year in a row it does make a minor contribution to closing the 'gap' in our budget.
"It's what the public would expect us to do."
He said the council tax rise, which the opposition Labour group has criticised, was a very difficult proposal to suggest.
"As you would expect it's been the subject of considerable debate within the cabinet and the Tory group," he said.
"But I do not see an easy solution to getting this budget back to what it was three or four years ago, given the way the landscape has changed so dramatically in looked-after children."
He also said the council's main Government funding pot, the revenue support grant, has been slashed by £19 million since 2011, a 26 per cent drop.
Calling it "challenging", he added: "This is a budget increasingly driven by Worcestershire people and not central Government."
He said the three main strands in the budget are adult care, tackling congestion and children’s social care, with the report citing consultation feedback from 49,000 people since 2010 helping shape it.
Councillor Simon Geraghty, deputy leader and cabinet member for economy, skills and infrastructure, added: "This isn't about just balancing the books, it's about supporting Worcestershire.
"I welcome the budget even if there are some very difficult decisions in it."
Your Worcester News revealed last month how the Labour group's leader Councillor Peter McDonald has been challenged to come up with an alternative to raising council tax.
During the meeting Councillor John Campion, cabinet member for transformation and change, repeated that request, saying he wants to avoid "rabbits out of a hat" on Thursday and a "punch and judy" style debate with Labour.
The suggestion of a rise has come about after the council raised serious concerns about children's services, with the number of youngsters in care rising nine per cent over the last year to 700.
The second successive proposed rise comes on the back of freezes in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
The 2015/16 budget includes £132 million on adult services and health, £77 million on children's services and £72 million on supporting businesses, maintaining the environment, or the wider community.
Another £42 million will fund the commercial, change and finance directorate, which is leading the project to commission out services.