TIMES are so tough that Tory-controlled Cheshire West and Chester Council wants to charge you an extra 40% to lay your loved one to rest.
The council is already proposing to defy calls for a council tax ‘freeze’ by Secretary of State Eric Pickles through a 1.9% hike in bills.
And a tighter than expected settlement for all local authorities is set to trigger a range of increased charges including a rise in burial and cremation fees.
Budget proposals, due to be voted on later this month, suggest cremation fees will rise from £467 to £650 over a three year period which the authority says is needed to pay for the new crematorium.
The council has already slashed more than £100m from the annual budget but more cuts are needed due to cost pressures and because Government grant is reducing by £11.5m in the next year and by more than £40m over four years.
Among the budget proposals are:
Leisure centre prices to rise
Removal of park and ride concessions
Outer car park charges to rise along with the introduction of on street parking charges
Meals-on-wheels prices to go up
School dinners to go up
Labour has criticised the council’s decision to increase the council tax burden on the borough’s poorest by making council tax benefit recipients of working age pay more – raising an extra £2.5m.
Other money-spinners include charging more council tax on empty homes to encourage landlords to bring them back into used while also raising an additional £1.6m.
There will be more spending to look after the aging population and vulnerable children. And the council may have to borrow £37m to help fulfil its capital commitments such as Chester’s £40m theatre.
Up to £2.3m will go towards the council’s Altogether Better pilot which aims to create £50m savings for the local public sector over the next four years through better joined up working between the authority and its partners.
Council leader Mike Jones told Chester’s Dee 106.3 radio station: “We will protect our front-line services but we will change the way they are delivered.
“We are reducing subsidies and therefore we will ask those who use the services to pay what they cost.
“So there are things like buses where we are not removing the services but again removing the subsidies wherever we can. That includes, for example, our sports facilities where we are looking to reduce the subsidy but that will be done by Brio, who are our operators, by improving the commercial viability of things like shops. Making them more attractive, getting more people to have breakfasts and lunches there and things, as well as small increases in prices as well.”
Labour’s Cllr Mark Henesy told the Conservative executive that ‘on the face of it’ the proposed budget looked ‘reasonable’ in targeting spending in areas like adult social and reducing expenditure in sectors cut by government.
But he added: “The budget really does hurt the less well-off more than rest of the population. The council tax benefit grant that is being cut by £2.5m, this council has decided to place the whole entire burden on those people receiving that benefit. This is going to affect the less well-off in our community.
“This also comes on top of the fact that the bedroom tax is going to be coming in by the government in April. And again many of those less well-off people will be affected – those people living in registered social landlord properties.”
He said the burden should be eased for those affected instead of investing £2.3m in Altogether Better. He questioned whether that programme would realistically deliver the promised 5,000 jobs 7,300 homes and £500m investment.