Uncertainty over Brexit and local government funding could cause the county to drop pledges for a two-year Derbyshire council tax freeze.
Cllr Barry Lewis, leader of Derbyshire County Council has long pledged to freeze council tax in 2020 and 2021.
He says that despite a wave of uncertainty over Brexit and funding for local authorities, his Conservative administration is sticking by its guns – for now.
This is despite several warnings from the authority’s finance chief, Peter Handford, that the council faces an uphill battle to make its required funding cuts – a further £63 million by 2023.
As it stands, he has given the authority until July to fully flesh out where it will make these cuts – stating that it is “imperative” to do so, or face financial instability.
This year the authority raised council tax by 3.99 per cent – one per cent lower than the maximum amount possible.
Its budget this year is £519.5 million.
Cllr Lewis said: “We are still on track to deliver two years of zero per cent council tax. But we are proceeding with caution. At the moment, particularly with Brexit, we don’t know what is going to happen. We have contingencies in place for our budget – through using reserves we can plan ahead. But we don’t know what is going to happen between now and then, so we are cautious – while Brexit uncertainty goes on.
“Brexit is slowing down the pace of government. We still have not had the comprehensive spending review, which is on hold, we have not had the green paper on adult social care. We want to help residents as much as we can and a council tax freeze is one way we can do that. We have consistently called for a fair funding review and we have been speaking to the minister about that.
“Around £270 million has had to be saved in recent years – and we need a promise now that we will not just have a bigger slice of the cake but a bigger cake overall for local government. They’ve talked about the end of austerity, and it is now time to start delivering on that.
“Brexit itself is building in some uncertainties, not just in the slowness of government but what will happen following Brexit, and the longer that goes on that will build increasing uncertainty. So there are still some caveats around that, so what are saying is, we will look to keeping council tax to an absolute minimum but we are still hoping that that will be two years of a zero rise.”
Leader of the opposition on the county council, Labour’s Cllr Anne Western, said that continuing to head for a council tax freeze was a bad idea. She said:
“At the moment we are struggling to meet a balanced budget, we have our finance director giving the council until July to organise where all the cuts will come from, and they (the Conservatives) are still heading for a council tax freeze. If they still want that balanced budget, with a council tax freeze, they are going to add more uncertainty. And it doesn’t look like we are going to get any more local government funding, we may get even less.”