Barrie Grunewald: Why we need to increase council taxes

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Following the Government’s announcement that councils with social care responsibilities – such as St Helens – are allowed to raise council tax on the condition that the extra funds are used for care provision, St Helens Council’s Cabinet has agreed to implement a 3.99 per cent Council Tax increase for 2016-17 to ease the pressure on social care funding.

The basic increase also takes account of further cuts in Government grants.

For 2016-17 this equates to £9 million – and takes the total lost since 2010-11 to £74 million.

We will have lost 75 per cent of the support that we used to be able to count on from central government, yet at the same time we face additional spending pressures.

The Government claims that it is providing greater clarity with this grant settlement – but as far as we’re concerned, all it does is confirm our worst fears. Once again we’re seeing deprived areas like St Helens come off far worse.

If that wasn’t enough, we’re also facing other financial pressures. The removal of opted-out status for pensions means that our National Insurance costs will rise by 3.4 per cent.

These challenges are significant. As well as cost pressures in the care sector they include general inflation, increases in the number of adults and children needing support and rising levels of need, increases in demand for everyday services as the population grows and pressure on homelessness budgets.

However, the council has been doing all it can to reduce its costs and generate more revenue.

Last year it beat its target by getting 632 new homes built in the borough - generating more council tax income.

There has also been more tax revenue from a higher level of commercial activity in St

Helens.

It’s a new year – and that means most of us will be making resolutions. Why not start off with Dry January?

Dry January is a national campaign to highlight alcohol misuse by encouraging people to try going dry for a whole month.

We’re urging everyone to just give it a try and to see for themselves what benefits this brings.

By taking on the challenge many will find they can lose a few pounds, have better quality sleep, save money and have time and energy to spare.

Finally, I’d like to congratulate St Helens Council’s very own Joanne Griffiths who has been awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours for services to young people and the community.

Despite having a serious heart condition, Democratic Services Manager, Joanne, has been a volunteer for over 35 years which has seen her set up a story club for children in her youth and volunteer for the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Joanne currently volunteers for the Steve Prescott Foundation and can always be seen with a cheerful smile at the finish on the annual 10k run and at race control at the Taylor Park Challenge.

She thoroughly deserves this honour and everyone here at the council is very proud of her. She’s a real inspiration to both colleagues and the young people she works with.