COUNCILLORS tonight agreed a 1.99per cent increase in council tax for the next year as they set a budget in the face of ongoing grant reductions.
The measures were unanimously approved by all three political parties. However, the Liberal Democrat and Conservatives made it clear they did not agree with "political rhetoric" condemning the Government from the Labour Council leader Barrie Grunewald.
The 1.99per cent increase is the maximum rise that could be imposed without the need for a local referendum.
Under Government policy, rises of two per cent or above trigger a local vote.
Cllr Grunewald said that by 2015 the council will have seen a £65million cut in government grants since 2010 and accused the Government of stripping funding from some of the country's poorest areas while wealthier areas of the south have benefited.
The council has already shed 1,400 jobs and faces more losses with the closure of the Red Bank secure children’s unit.
Grunewald pledged to protect services for the most vulnerable but admitted it will be an “uphill struggle”, with many tough decisions ahead.
He said: “The government has stretched essential council services to breaking point. “But I can assure people that we will do our best to protect people from the government’s disgraceful attack on local government.”
Councillor Stephanie Topping, the St Helens Lib Dem leader, countered by saying it had been the previous Labour Government whose mismanagement of the economy that had left the country's finances in a grave situation and the pain being endured was a legacy of that.
However, she added: "It is a balanced budget and there area lot of issues that are important to us. Liberal Democrats support the budget tonight."
Conservative leader David Monk said that despite all the talk of cuts there was only a fractional difference in the net expenditure of the council for the past year and that forecast for the next 12 months.
He said the Tories supported "the budget but not the accompanying rhetoric (from Labour)". Council tax bills in St Helens had been frozen in 2013/2014 but councillors felt a rise this year was unavoidable given the squeeze on funding.
As reported by the Star earlier today, in an effort to boost the town centre there will be a significant cash investment.
£1million of funding will aim to support the development of retail activity and will look to our commercial partners to advise how best this funding can be used.