Melton’s surprise council tax freeze for Fenland on day Cambridgeshire County Council votes for a 1.99 per cent rise

Alan Melton.

Alan Melton. - Credit: Archant

In an extraordinary political twist Fenland Council tonight back tracked on a planned 1.9 per cent council tax rise within an hour of Cambridgeshire County Council voting through a 1.99 per cent rise.

Martin Curtis.

Martin Curtis. - Credit: Archant

Fenland Council leader Alan Melton announced the surprise U-turn and revealed he had ordered the reserves to be used to plug the gap.

The decision means Fenland Council will be in line for a potential grant of £76,000 from the Government for refusing to increase council tax for the coming year.

The short fall of £50,000 will come from the council’s own general reserves.

Cllr Melton said the budget report going to next week’s Cabinet and full council recommends no increase – a change from the original proposal, which suggested a rise of 1.9 per cent.

The report says that the medium term financial forecasts show that the Government’s continuing squeeze on public expenditure would still means “significant savings” of about £1.2 million over the next two years.

Councillor Michael Humphrey, Cabinet member for finance, said: “Like all local authorities, for some time now we have been having to cope with big cuts in our budget and that continues to present us with some really tough challenges and decisions.

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“However, we recognise that these are hard times for everyone in our community and freezing our share of Council Tax is one way we can help. Obviously, that puts more pressure on us as an organisation but we feel it is the right thing to do at this time.”

Cllr Melton said: “We have already made very significant savings and we continue to make good progress through shared services and other smarter ways of working. We remain one of the best-run councils in the country – something clearly demonstrated by the fact that we have been shortlisted for the Efficiency award in this year’s LGC awards.

“That is a tribute to the hard work and commitment of all our staff, which I hope will be duly rewarded when the results are announced next month.”

If the recommended freeze is approved at next week’s full council meeting, it would mean that the Band D level for FDC services would remain £245.61.

Ironically many of his Conservative colleagues who are also county councillors were at Shire Hall, Cambridge, and today to vote through a county tax increase of 1.99 per cent.

Although Conservatives no longer have an overall majority at Shire Hall, abstentions by Labour were enough to get the budget approved.

A report to councillors warned that there were no easy solutions to meet the savings despite the council already having saved £128 million in the last three years.

Councillors agreed an amendment which would see around £1.4 million spent on transport improvements, children’s centres, mental health services, adult social care and winter gritting.

A decision to withdraw funding to Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon, has also been deferred for an extra year to give more time for plans to be developed to find alternative management solutions.

Council leader Martin Curtis said: “This is a very tough time for councils and especially Cambridgeshire.

“We are one of the hardest hit authorities in the country in terms of funding and yet we are managing the most growth. We have already saved tens of millions of pounds by making savings where people would expect whilst having very limited reserves. “But we are also being innovative with such projects as sharing services with other councils as well as being a UK leader in better use of public sector buildings with our partners.”

But he said the scale of savings now needed meant the council had to “make tough decisions and inevitably some regrettable cuts to frontline services. But these cuts are necessary so that we can continue to make sure we protect the most vulnerable while supporting the local economy and jobs.”

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