THE leader of Wiltshire Council has said an increase in council tax "might be an option that has to be looked at", amid rising costs and inflation.
Councillor Richard Clewer admitted that lifting the council tax limit and increasing the tax precept "would not be a particularly palatable thing to do", adding: "But it might be an option that has to be looked at. I just don’t know.”
It comes as the leader of Wiltshire Council's Liberal Democrats expressed "grave concerns" about cuts to non-statutory services, including hardship funds for families, homelessness prevention funds, leisure centres, pools, parks and museums.
Inflation has dramatically increased council costs putting non-statutory services, which are services the council does not legally have to provide, at risk.
Lib Dem cllr Ian Thorn said: “Given current financial circumstances there have to be grave concerns about the provision of non-statutory services.”
The leader of the council, Richard Clewer, did not give any assurance the services would be protected.
He said: “Can I give a cast-iron guarantee with this degree of uncertainty in the world? No. But no politician could guarantee you that given how much uncertainty there is at the moment.”
Cllr Thorn said: “There has been a gradual reduction in non-statutory services, the classic example is the youth service which was reduced to zero two or three years ago.
“Non-statutory services are constantly under threat and would be first to go should the council need to balance its books and local authorities by law have to produce a balanced budget.”
Cllr Thorn also said that the pressures on non-statutory services are not helped by "council overspending": “There was a £12m overspend just at the end of quarter one and in terms of the next three years we’re looking at a funding gap of £45m.”
Any authority proposing an excessive increase in council tax must hold a local referendum and obtain a ‘yes’ vote before implementing the increase.
Cllr Clewer added: “If costs are going up by 10 per cent and we can only put income up by three per cent legally because of council tax that’s very difficult to overcome.”
Inflation has also meant unions for Wiltshire Council staff are calling for bigger pay increases than planned for.
This additional expense has forced the council to draw on surplus reserves from the previous year.
Cllr Clewer said the council budgeted for a pay rise of four per cent at the beginning of this financial year but now it will be 6.8 per cent if the unions accept.