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BUDGET 2009 Tax RISES Services CUT Jobs AXED; CITY COUNCIL BUDGET.

Byline: Les Reid POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT

COUNCIL tax is set to rise by 3.7 per cent in April as part of one of the most controversial budgets for decades affecting every home in Coventry.

The ruling Conservative group yesterday published its budget. It includes finding more than pounds 9million of savings through 190 job losses, cuts in some services and increased charges for others.

The 3.7 per cent council tax increase includes the proportion of the tax collected by the police and fire service. The authority's share will rise by 3.8 per cent, 1.3 per cent higher than senior council managers' recommendations in recent years.

If, as expected, the Tory majority party pushes through its budget at a council meeting next Tuesday, it will add an extra pounds 1.4 million to council coffers but would mean families paying much more council tax in real terms in the depths of a recession.

That's because inflation rates are predicted by the Bank of England to stay under two per cent in the next two years.

It would take the amount paid for a house in Band D from pounds 1,385.58 to pounds 1,437.65.

Council tax is only one way in which the forthcoming budget will hit Coventry families in the pocket. The challenge for ruling councillors has been to find pounds 13.5million of savings to balance a recession-hit pounds 262million budget in the financial year starting in April.

The more controversial proposals would hit the elderly, the young and disabled, as the Telegraph has covered. Conservatives yesterday announced that they would not press ahead with management's earlier proposals to cut the budget for Britain in Bloom, while they will not charge pounds 30 to replace lost or stolen wheelie bins. Longstay car parking will also rise.

Cuts lined up for April include axing up to 14 councilrun after-school childrens' clubs and 19 summer playschemes. Council leaders say alternative after-school activities are now being provided directly at many schools with government funding, while they hope more schools will do so in future.

The plan involves cutting by a third the pounds 1.1million budget of the council's children and family education service and changes to grading of youth workers, both the subject of a national rally of unions on Saturday outside the Council House. Some of the savings will be used to bolster citywide support to vulnerable children.

Planned increases in charges for services to the elderly and disabled, including raising charges for home care and meals on wheels by up to 40 per cent, have also met with opposition.

Council bosses say they can no longer afford heavy subsidies for such services which other local authorities don't offer.

Labour shadow cabinet councillors this week went on the offensive in pointing out a string of other cuts and charge increases.

Labour councillor Lynette Kelly (Henley) is angry at proposals to slash the budget for Coventry's performing arts service - which delivers music, singing and drama services across the city - by pounds 150,000, with the loss of five posts.

She said it will result in above-inflation charges for music lessons, hitting poorest families the hardest. Council bosses say they will increasingly look to schools to fund these services through direct government funding.

Coun Lindsley Harvard (Lab, Longford) has warned of rising crime from cuts in the neighbourhood wardens service, cuts in subsidies for gating schemes, and halving the pounds 70,000 budget for community safety schemes.

Labour councillor Ram Lakha (Binley and Willenhall) attacked plans to halve free city centre parking for 800 council staff to help save pounds 125,000. A raft of other savings would come from asking voluntary organisations receiving council grants to find three per cent savings.

Conservatives yesterday announced that those providing benefit and advice services will be exempt, given the current economic climate.

Other budget cuts include services for children in residential placements; grounds maintenance; removing reserve money for school crossing patrols; raising charges for graves for non-residents; cutting staff posts in libraries and preventing libraries from buying new CDs; charging for disabled parking Blue Badges.

City council bosses say many of these savings can be delivered through increased efficiency without harming services.

On that basis, some of the pounds 9million revenue savings package has already been pushed through by Conservatives on the council's cabinet and by council officers, to the consternation of Labour and Socialist councillors, who accuse Tories of bypassing the democratic process.

CAPTION(S):

ANGRY REPSONSE... Labour councilors Lynette Kelly and Ram Lakha.
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Feb 17, 2009
Words:757
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