CABINET members have agreed on the proposal to increase council tax by 5.99 per cent – saying that the hike “ is down to Whitehall, not local Government.”

This tax rise of 2.99 per cent, the maximum increase without the need of a public referendum under revised Government regulations, and an additional care precept of 3 per cent was agreed ‘in principle’ at St Helens Town Hall.

The amount, which is subject to consultation, is one per cent higher than last year’s increase of 4.99 per cent. It comes against a backdrop of ongoing funding cuts from central government.

However, members highlighted their feelings over the “trick budget” adding that it looks “bleak” for residents.

Cllr Anthony Johnson, cabinet member for corporate services, said: “All in all it’s still looking fairly bleak for us.

“It seems that when the Government give us something they give with one hand and then take away with that hand – and the other hand as well.

“It pains me to present this budget, but the overall grant reductions we have faced since 2010 have placed enormous pressure on the services provided by the council.

“By 2020, we will have lost a total of £90m from our budgets, equating to £510 we used to have for every person in St Helens.

“Such reductions in resources have had a substantial impact on the services the council provides as we seek to uphold our statutory duties and maintain those services valued by our residents.

“We are left with no choice but to increase council tax by the maximum amount.”

Other members echoed this sentiment with Cllr John Fulham, cabinet member for growth adding: “It's unfortunate that those least able to pay are always being asked to pay by this Government.

“This is down to Whitehall, not local Government.”

Cllr Derek Long, cabinet member for Liverpool City Region engagement, said: added: "We wondered whether this would be a trick or treat budget and it's a trick budget."

Cllr Marlene Quinn, cabinet member for adult social care and health commented on this being the last year of the care precept, and criticised central Government, adding: added: "Once again we see the government not addressing the need where health and social care is.

“Public health is losing money, yet it is the foundation of social care."

Government has given councils that provide adult social care the power to increase council tax by up to an additional three per cent in 2017-18 and 2018-19 to contribute towards these services.

If they do this, they can’t charge the precept again in 2019-20.

St Helens Council is following Government guidance in levying three per cent for both 2017-18 and 2018-19, meaning the care precept for 2019-20 will be zero.

Cllr Johnson added: “It’s important to remember that council tax is not a direct payment for a direct service; it is your contribution to the services that the council must legally provide, like waste collection and recycling, street lighting, highway maintenance, and especially protecting vulnerable people.

“Social care and the safeguarding of vulnerable children, for example, may not be services that you are personally accessing, but one day a member of your family may need care, or a child on your street may need protection.

“Your council tax allows us to do this, but it doesn’t completely cover the costs. In fact, in 2017-18 we anticipate council tax income of £66.4m, but we expect to pay £69.6m on adult social care alone. It’s a real challenge to provide these services with the resources we have, and one we can only meet with residents’ support.”