Tue, 22 Nov 2016
SOME of the most vulnerable people in the district are set to be hit by a ‘double whammy’, with West Berkshire Council set to increase council tax while at the same time looking to reduce the level of support it provides.
The proposals are part of the council’s plan to save £8m next year.
In addition to raising council tax by 3.99 per cent for the second successive year, the proposals include cutting funding to Citizens Advice – the first port of call for many with financial concerns – by almost 30 per cent.
Citizens Advice has already had to close for appointments on a Thursday afternoon, after having its funding cut by 25 per cent this year.
And although next year’s proposed £60,000 cut is not a given just yet, the charity’s chief executive Jan Rothwell said: “Of course we are very worried about the proposals.
“It would have a massive impact on our ability to deliver services if it was to go ahead. We can’t yet say what that is likely to be.”
In its own impact assessment, the council admits: “A further reduction in core funding will potentially impact on the small number of paid staff, which could then impact on the number of volunteer advisers that CAB can support.
“This will mean fewer advisers on existing sessions or fewer sessions.
“The effect of both will be to reduce accessibility of advice to the public.”
And to rub salt into the wounds, thousands of people could receive less help with their bills if proposed changes to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme goes ahead.
Another proposal is to start charging £703 a year for children over the age of 16 with special educational needs (SEN) or disabilities to get the bus to school – a service that is currently provided free of charge.
The council admits this will have a financial impact on families and says there are no exceptions for families on low incomes.
Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) said: “If you have a child with SEN you might have to reduce your hours at work to help look after them, and to find £700 is not easy.”
An increase in parking charges and reduced funding for road safety is also on the cards in the latest proposals.
The council says that, by cutting the road safety budget, a number of road safety activities could either reduce or stop entirely.
This may include visits to schools and support for national campaigns.
Mr Dillon added: “It is proposed to cut drainage maintenance, which was a major contributing factor to flooding we had in 2007, 2014, and the flash flood only a few weeks ago.
“It means more standing water will be on roads, but at the same time the council is looking to cut the budget for road safey.”
The council is being forced to make the savings after having its government grant cut year on year.
This year, the council had to find £17.5m of savings after having its grant cut by 44 per cent.