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Dudley Tories warn council reserves are under threat
2:39pm Wednesday 22nd August 2012 in News
DUDLEY Council's Conservatives are warning the authority's cash reserves are in danger of being wiped out within a year.
The shocking claim was sparked by a plan to raid the council's £12.4million savings to cover cuts in central government support for council tax benefits.
The national council tax benefit scheme will be axed next April and local authorities are being forced to make their own arrangements.
Dudley's ruling Labour group wants to avoid changing who gets benefits but, after a ten per cent drop in government grants, borough politicians would have to find an extra £2.4million each year to fill the gap.
Dudley's Conservative leader, Cllr Les Jones, said: "They are taking the money straight out of reserves. This year we are still facing the need to cut eight million out of the budget, are they going to cut the budget by eight million?"
Tory front bencher, Cllr Patrick Harley, also says reserves should not be used to fill budget black holes.
He said: "We can only spend reserves once, when it's gone - it's gone. At this rate reserves will last 12 months."
Labour's cabinet member for finance, Cllr Pete Lowe, hit back saying the Tories were ousted from control of Dudley in this year's local elections for ignoring people in need.
He said: "I am not going to take any lessons on budget management from the Conservative group, this shows they were not willing to look after vulnerable people and that's why the electorate made it's decision in May."
Cllr Lowe also argues taking away help for people paying council tax means they would not be able to pay at all, and the authority would lose money.
He added the council is currently considering a number of options to cover costs and avoid drastic cuts.
He said: "We are looking at new methods of income generation and efficiency savings which won't have a major impact on services."
In 2011/12 Dudley Council paid around £24 million in council tax benefit to 33,000 households, the average award was about £720 per year.
A public consultation is under way on council tax benefit changes and people can have their say by visiting www.dudley.gov.uk/advice-benefits/benefits or by completing a consultation form in person at Dudley Council Plus, Castle Street, Dudley.
The deadline for taking part in the consultation is Tuesday September 25.