A CONSERVATIVE bid to ease the council tax increase set for Cheshire West ratepayers has been blocked and slammed as a ‘nasty piece of work’.

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s budget for 2019-20 was approved on Thursday night – including a 4.99 per cent council tax increase.

Tory after Tory spoke out against the tax hike, which includes an earmarked two per cent rise to meet increasing social care demand, and the group put forward an amendment to increase council tax by 3.5 per cent instead.

But the idea was voted down by the ruling Labour group after members accused the Conservatives of ‘pushing people into food banks’, with the move part-funded by cutting £1.6 million from CWAC’s council tax reduction scheme for vulnerable residents.

Opening the budget debate, Labour Cllr David Armstrong, cabinet member for legal and finance, said: “CWAC is recognised as one of, if not the best managed and run local authorities in the country. We have superb, hardworking staff who are ably led by a highly professional management team.

“This administration has worked for all the residents in the borough while always recognising those who live in the most challenging circumstances must be our highest priority.”

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He added that to freeze council tax – a proposal suggested by the Conservative group last week – would be ‘financial lunacy’, and pointed to the fact CWAC will receive zero revenue support grant from the Government next year, compared to £69.5 million in 2013-14.

But Cllr Neil Sullivan, the Conservatives’ shadow cabinet member for legal and finance, insisted council tax is a ‘major cost for hard-pressed, low income families’ – and suggested the council would increasingly receive more income from a growth in business rates.

He also hit out at the Labour administration by suggesting it will only hit 75 per cent of its savings targets for this year – including a £500,000 overspend on Chester’s park and ride.

Cllr Lynn Riley, CWAC’s Conservative group leader, added: “You haven’t listened to one single alternative budget that would have reduced bills for residents or cut costs for the council. This amendment shows that it does not need to be this way.”

Reducing the council tax increase to 3.5 per cent would have cost the council £2.6 million.

To fund it, the Conservatives wanted CWAC to increase its capital receipts target by an extra £1 million.

They would have also taken £1.6 million from reserves in 2019-20, before looking to cut £1.6 million from the council tax reduction scheme budget from 2020-21.

Cllr Mike Baynham, Conservative, highlighted that council tax has risen by 19.6 per cent from 2015 to 2019 – from £1,270.90 to £1,520.08 for a Band D property.

He said: “Once again, we see that the Labour administration has reached into its little bag of ideas and come out with a well-worn piece of paper which says ‘put the council tax up’.”

Labour Cllr Ben Powell admitted that ‘no one wants to charge more council tax’ – but insisted it is the situation that ‘all councils find themselves in’.

And the Blacon councillor hit out at the Conservatives’ plans to cut £1.6 million from the council tax reduction scheme – labelling it a ‘nasty, ill-thought through piece of work’.

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He said: “You’re going to push these people into food banks, and worse, you are going to push them out of their homes. You are going to make the homelessness crisis worse.

“It’s not only irresponsible to try and do this on the basis of one-off calls from capital receipts and nonsense like that, but to punish people in this way is frankly disgraceful.

“Meet with some of my residents who are on Universal Credit and tell them where they are going to find £20 extra a week.”

Cllr Samantha Dixon, CWAC’s Labour leader, added that the council has been faced with ‘savage cuts’ from the Government, and that some services are ‘proving harder and harder to deliver’.

She added: “The short-termism and opportunism shown by the party opposite is breath-taking and demonstrates why they are unfit to run this council.”

The amendment was defeated 36-34 with two abstentions, before CWAC’s budget was passed 37-34 with one abstention.