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Bullying claim as tax discount bid wins

Malvern Editorial 15th Jan, 2014 Updated: 20th Oct, 2016

CLAIMS have been made Worcestershire County Council tried to ‘bully’ district councillors into approving changes to the Council Tax Discount Scheme by threatening to cut £180,000 worth of expenditure in Malvern.

Patrick Birch, director of resources at WCC, sent letters to councillors who sit on both authorities, prior to a special district council meeting last Tuesday (January 7), which had been arranged to specifically discuss the issue.

The letters outlined the county’s intention to reduce expenditure in Malvern by the same amount it was set to lose – £180,000 – should changes to the scheme be refused for a second time.

Councillors ultimately approved the alterations by 21 votes to 11. Of those councillors who also represent Malvern at county level, only Coun Tom Wells voted in favour of the changes while councillors Paul Tuthill and Roger Sutton abstained and Coun John Raine called for the proposals to be refused.

The changes are set to affect about 2,600 claimants and save around £300,000 for council tax collectors including £40,000 for Malvern Hills District Council.

The changes include scrapping discounts for those receiving £10 or under and requiring child maintenance payments to be included as income when people are assessed for support.

At December’s council meeting the changes were thrown out by a single vote and several councillors expressed concern not enough people understood the full implications of the proposals.

Coun Paul Cumming, responsible for finance, performance management and resources on the district council, said: “It’s a decision in a normal world no one wants to make.

“If we don’t approve this we will have to find £40,000 from our savings. Most efficiency savings that could have been made already have been.

“Anymore cuts would have to come from services.”

Coun Cumming said the the district council should ‘bully the county council back’ and request they double a hardship fund for those in extreme need to £50,000.

But Adrian Hardman, leader of Worcestershire County Council, said: “Last year the county had to subsidise this from reserves, and it clearly could not continue to do this forever.

“I think it’s better to be open and transparent and to highlight the consequences of the decisions taken by the local districts on ourselves, the police and fire service.  I don’t see this as bullying in any shape or form.

“We have to be fair to all the local districts and to not inform them would be neither responsible nor fair.”

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