Letter from Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst – Liberal Democrat Group Leader and Leader of the Opposition on Hertfordshire County Council

Dear Editor,

The decision of the Conservatives on Hertfordshire County Council to increase Council Tax by almost 2% is in sharp contrast to the two Liberal Democrat run councils in Hertfordshire – namely Three Rivers and Watford – which have yet again frozen council tax – in the case of Three Rivers for the 10th year running.

The County Council has rejected the Coalition Government’s offer of £5.2m extra funding which would have been available had it not increased Council Tax.

Instead it has decided to increase the tax, make cuts to services as well as increase its reserves of money for a “rainy day” from £146m to £154m. The council also has a current ‘collection fund’ surplus of £5.9m – money collected from council taxpayers in excess of what had been budgeted for in previous years.

I am appalled. The County Council clearly has to be careful and look after taxpayers’ money properly, but right now putting up Council Tax by almost 2% while at the same time hitting services to the elderly and vulnerable leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

We all know times are tough, but the Liberal Democrat Group has looked long and hard at the options available to us and we posed an alternative budget that would ring-fence essential services, restore cuts, freeze Council Tax, cut waste and non-essential spending and maximise income.

Included in the Liberal Democrat budget amendment was an extra £4.4m revenue spending that would have reversed mobile library cuts, bus service cuts and school crossing patrols cuts. We would also have allowed for councillors to restore street lighting at night, funded the gritting of roads outside schools, provided money for school uniforms for needy families and extended the apprenticeships scheme.

On the capital side the Liberal Democrats proposed £2m on a new flood relief programme, £6m extra on highways and footway repairs and £1.5m extra on a schools maintenance programme, all without increasing the council tax. This was possible by cutting back room services like publicity, using the collection surplus, and driving down building and mileage costs.

I am disappointed to say that the Liberal Democrat budget amendment was lost and was very surprised that Labour Councillors refused to support our move to protect vital services.

One has to ask why this year to increase the Council Tax with so much in reserves. Could it be that because it’s a General Election year they hope their tax rise will go unnoticed?  Or perhaps they are putting money away to save up to try to cut the council tax in two years time before the next County elections – we will see.

Stephen Giles-Medhurst

Liberal Democrat Group Leader and Leader of the Opposition (Central Oxhey division)