The Liberal Democrat act group leader, Cornwall Councillor for Lostwithiel and Lanreath, has condemned Cornwall Council's proposal to increase the county's council tax by almost 5%.

The full council met in Truro today (February 21) for the final setting of the authority’s budget for 2023/24.

The Cabinet had already agreed the draft budget, which was put before the full council today for final approval.

The budget will see Cornwall Council’s part of the council tax bill increase by 2.99%, with an additional 2% levy which will be ring-fenced for Adult Social Care services.

Prior to the meeting Cllr David Harris, deputy leader of Cornwall Council and portfolio holder for resources, said: “I am delighted to be putting a balanced budget before the council, especially considering how challenging the process of getting to this point has been. 

“As an authority, we are in a much healthier place than many of our counterparts and have not been forced to dip into our reserves to reach this point, which is thanks to the hard work of everyone involved in this process.

“We are protecting services while keeping our Council Tax rates below average for the South West, which is an achievement we can be proud of, especially in the current economic climate.”

However, speaking in response Liberal Democrat group leader and Cornwall Councillor for Lostwithiel and Lanreath Cllr Colin Martin said: "Two years ago, the Conservatives took control of the council after an election promise that the Conservative Government wouldn't say no to any funding requests coming from our Conservative Cabinet members and our Conservative MPs.

"Well, I suppose they're half right: The Government didn't say no to Cllr Monk's request for a ten-year programme to insulate our 10,000 council houses… because he didn't ask.

"The Government didn't say no to Cllr Alvey's request to fund a Climate Commission… because he didn't ask.

"The Government didn't say no to Cllr Pears' request for funding to reopen our leisure centres… because he didn't ask.

"The Government didn't say no to Cllr Donnithorne's request to keep the £2 cap on bus fares for the whole of next year, or to restore the routes which were cut last Autumn… because he didn't ask.

"The Government didn't say no to Cllr Ellenbroek's request for extra funding to reverse the cuts to the education of children with long-term illnesses… because she didn't ask.

"And the Government didn't say no to Cllr Virr's request for £39 million to enable us to pay care workers £13 an hour… because he didn't ask.

"In fact, the Health and Adult Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee (which has a Conservative majority) specifically instructed the Leader to ask the Government for more funding to increase wages for care workers. But instead of writing to the Government, she wrote back to the Chair of the committee to say she thinks there's enough money in the Cornish system already!!

"Now it's true to say that we have an "integrated care system", meaning Cornwall's billion pound NHS budget could be used to support the Council's Adult Social Care budget. And indeed the Government did instruct all Councils to be given some short-term funding from that pot, but the one thing it couldn't be used for was to pay higher wages to care workers.

"So have the Leader or the Portfolio Holder asked the Integrated Care Board to help fund higher wages for care workers? I think you know the answer to that…

"Now, no doubt you're going to hear Conservative Councillors stand up and criticise us for not proposing an alternative budget. But if our Cabinet Members have failed to even ask for the extra revenue we need, then proposing taking a few quid out of Pot A and moving it into Pot B is like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

"Cllr Harris has said that the budget gap has been closed, but really this is achieved by yet another 5% increase in Council Tax, increasing fees and charges, cutting services and taking away free peak time travel for concessionary bus pass holders. 

"Crucially a large part of what has been described as “£26m of new money” for Adult Social Care is really just the result of breaking the promise that people would no longer have to sell their homes to pay for residential care. 

"And it's not just the failure to ask for adequate funding which makes it impossible to support this budget. It's the lack of proper scrutiny too:

"We used to get a first look at the budget in the Autumn so we could ask officers to work up plans for alternative proposals. But by holding it back from scrutiny committees until January, the Conservative majority was able to vote down any alternative recommendations to the cabinet using the argument that insufficient information was available.

"The Government still hasn't announced what our public health budget will be, so scrutiny of how the Council will spend an unknown quantity of cash is clearly meaningless.

"One of the most important parts of the Children's budget is the High Needs block for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. The leader says we’ve produced a balanced budget but the High Needs Block is actually forecast to have a shortfall of £5m which is magically dealt with by a “special reserve”. Yet the details of this budget haven’t been brought to any scrutiny committee at all!

"And when the combined scrutiny reports were brought to CASSOSC, there was total confusion as the published papers contained inaccurate information.

"Some of you are going to stand up and say “Cllr Martin is being political”. Yes, I am: That’s my job, and it’s your job too. I know that many of you are decent, hard-working local representatives, but when you serve under the banner of a political party, you are also a politician. The Conservative Government has left Cornwall Council without the money it needs. The Conservative Cabinet has left Cornwall’s residents without the services upon which they depend. And as long as you continue to wear the Conservative label, you have to take personal responsibility for the actions of your political leaders.

"It’s time for the Council to be led by someone who will be Cornwall’s voice in Whitehall, not Whitehall’s voice in Cornwall."