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Walsall Council cuts: £54 million tax rise needed to plug budget hole

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Residents in Walsall face the prospect of having to pay £54 million more in council tax by 2020 if they want to save libraries, the New Art Gallery and other services in the borough, new figures have revealed.

This startling figure means the average household's council tax bill could spiral by more than £1,000 in four years.

Councillor Sean Coughlan, the leader of the council, warned just days ago that public services in the borough were at 'the point of breaking' and that by 2020 Walsall could be left with no art gallery, no museums and just one library.

Now the first document to be released as part of the council's four-year budget plan in which it has to find savings of some £86 million has revealed just how harshly council tax would have to rise to keep these and other services across the borough open.

The council has a council tax requirement (the amount it needs to raise from council tax to fund spending once government funding and other council income is deducted) for 2016/17 of £100.99m but by 2019/20 this requirement will have rocketed to £168.74m.

Accounting for a 3.99 per cent rise in council tax each year (the highest amount it can go up by without calling a referendum), by 2019/20 the council will only be bringing in £114.57m through council tax – a difference of £54.17m.

Walsall Council is legally required to produce a balanced budget, meaning this £54.17m gap will have to be bridged – be it through a council tax rise or a major slash to services.

To bring this down to a household level, the current level of council tax to be paid by a band D property is £1,495, but for this council tax requirement figure of £168.74m in 2019/20 to be reached, the band D council tax charge will have to go up to £2,499 – an increase of £1,004.

Speaking at a press conference earlier this week, the leader of the council Councillor Sean Coughlan made no attempt to hide the difficult financial situation the council is facing over the next four years.

He said: "As challenging and unpleasant as it is, the council and its newly elected administration are accountable for delivering these colossal savings. Sadly, this is 'part and parcel' of the job we have been elected to do by the people of Walsall. It is certainly not the reason any of us entered politics, but it is what is expected of us."

On the issue of council tax, Councillor Coughlan confessed that residents would never accept such an astronomical rise, but hoped that people would agree for the tax to rise higher than 3.99 per cent in order to protect certain services. Measures would then have to be put into place to meet the remaining shortfall.

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