CAB offices in closure threat

A TOWN'S Citizens Advice Bureau could be forced to close if the Government carries out its threat to cap huge hikes in a council's spending plans, it has been warned.

A TOWN'S Citizens Advice Bureau could be forced to close if the Government carries out its threat to cap huge hikes in a council's spending plans, it has been warned.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has indicated that any percentage council tax rise above "low single figures" would be considered excessive and could be capped.

But Maldon District Council is set to ignore that threat and increase its share of Band D bills by £24 to £145.29 a year from April.

In percentage terms that would be a hike of around 20%, making it one of the highest in the country and putting it on a collision course with Mr Prescott.


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Councils have to submit their spending plans for 2004/05 to Whitehall by mid-March when ministers will consider a number of factors such as previous years' increases before deciding whether to act.

If the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister chooses to use its legal powers in Maldon it could cost the district council up to £100,000 to re-bill all households its area.

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But it would also mean that spending would be cut on services which the council does not have a legal obligation to provide.

With finance chiefs in Maldon currently preparing a dossier of evidence to justify its spending, Bob Boyce, leader of the Conservative controlled council, yesterday revealed the £47,000 funding granted to the town's Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) could be among the first to be axed.

The council funding is by far the 19-year-old bureau's main source of revenue and without it there would be a serious risk of closure.

Bureau manager Ken Harris said: "The services we provide across the district are essential. Last year our two part-time staff and 27 volunteers with 11,000 enquiries into benefits, employment problems and other legal matters, but that's not reflected in the £47,000.

"The benefit derived to the community is far greater than that. We need that money - we'd collapse otherwise."

Mr Boyce insisted he was not scare mongering. He said: "I don't want to cut services, but we would have to review our whole medium term financial strategy if we were capped and high up the list for cuts would be the bureau and also grants to the voluntary sector.

"The Government has put us in this position because it has taken away some money that we had last year. We believe we can justify any rise - we run a very lean machine here."

A spokesperson for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said each council's spending plans would be considered on a case by case basis before deciding whether to cap.

Maldon District Council will vote on the recommended increase when it meets on February 12.

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