A PETITION to give residents a “voice and choice” on raising council tax above the cap via referendum has been submitted to the Royal Borough.

After the Conservative cabinet agreed to lobby Government to raise council tax past the five per cent cap back in October, the Borough First (TBF) Independent group announced they are campaigning for residents to have a say on that.

Three per cent is the adult social care precept set by Government, but a further increase of the two per cent in council tax will have to go to a local referendum.

The Conservatives’ proposed draft 2021/22 budget, which is subject to public consultation, seeks to increase council tax by five per cent as well as cutting and ‘transforming’ services in order to save around £8 million – and more in later years – due to Covid-19 and past financial mismanagement.

The leader of the independents, councillor Lynne Jones (Old Windsor Residents’ Association: Old Windsor), said this petition is to give residents the option whether they want to maintain historically low council tax but see a reduction in services or increase council tax past the two per cent council tax cap without seeing cuts made to services.

She said: “I think rather than it being Government’s choice or people lobbying Government for that ability, to actually give residents that choice, it’s more in line with how we see their view being represented.”

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The independent group estimated a local referendum may cost around £200,000.

Councillor Geoff Hill (TBF: Oldfield) said: “It is expensive – but what I would say is democracy is expensive and it’s a very difficult system to run.

“I believe it’s the very best and you can’t put a price on democracy, freedom, and giving people the opportunity to express their views in a fair and transparent way.

“I wish not to see anyone not having their voice heard.”

If a referendum were to pass, it would affect the 2022/23 budget and not this year due to the timescale of setting one up in time.

Last week, the leader of the Royal Borough, councillor Andrew Johnson (Conservative: Hurley & Walthams) said the council would have to build its budget on the assumption of winning the referendum and if it loses, an emergency budget would have to be developed – possibly causing more cuts to services.

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Cllr Jones disputed this, saying: “This is why we’re doing it so early for the 2022/23 budget because if you do it early and the process is set, therefore you’re not trying to put through an emergency budget at the end because you’ve already done the referendum and you have given yourself time.

“I find it really hard that people say this doesn’t work because this is the mechanism Government has given us to do this.

“Are they [the Conservatives] saying the mechanism Government has given us doesn’t work? You can’t use it because it doesn’t fit in with the budget-making process. I find that really hard to understand.

“I think doing it so early gives them the chance to do it properly and the timescales to be able to incorporate it into the budget-making process for the very early stage and therefore not have to do a knee jerk reaction at the end.”

Old Windsor Residents’ Association councillor Neil Knowles (Old Windsor) added: “There might be no need to put the council tax up. There might be funding from Government – but we need to have people discussing the option that this might be required.”