District councillors in Stroud are taking a stand against austerity by refusing to hand back £500,000 the authority owes to the government.
An alliance of Labour, Green and Lib Dem councillors say paying the sum to Westminster is morally unacceptable at a time when the Tories are imposing punishing cuts on local councils.
They were meeting ahead of setting this year’s budget to consider how to save money and increase income while protecting valued services such as Citizens Advice, youth services and neighbourhood wardens.
Council leader and Labour councillor Steve Lydon said: “Stroud District faces a dire financial situation. We are the first Gloucestershire council to see an end to its central government grant from 2018, meaning we must now rely solely for our income on council tax and business rates, which is shared with the county council and other district councils, as well as any bonuses from new homes built in the district.”
Leader of the Green group Martin Whiteside said: “Residents’ and business satisfaction with the council is at an all time high, reflecting the hard work done so far by councillors and officers to protect services and standards despite cuts to funding in the last five years.”
However, due to an obscure piece of red tape, called a ‘tariff adjustment’, the council will have to pay a shocking £549,000 back to central government by 2019-2020, the highest amount in Gloucestershire.
‘This clawback of funding is a stealth tax on local residents,’ said Councillor Ken Tucker, group leader of the Liberal Democrats. ‘Last year the government proposed these figures to us, and promised that we would be allowed to keep 100% of our business rates to help us finance our services. They have broken that promise and we are now looking at a black hole.’
A statement condemning austerity was agreed by all the councillors:
As local Labour, Green and Lib Dem councillors we have been elected to represent our communities and to provide services that keep our citizens and our streets and our buildings safe. In Stroud District we are working together as a co-operative alliance to achieve this.
The Conservative government has cut our funding for the past seven years and we have, reluctantly, made the necessary savings in order to pass balanced budgets as required by law.
It is our moral duty as councillors to ensure we do all we can to prevent any more suffering. Our country and our citizens cannot bear it.
Enough is enough.
A further £7.1bn of cuts are due to local government by 2019/20, according to the latest Local Government Association figures. We cannot guarantee that these cuts will not impact on the safety of our citizens.