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CAP BUSTERS LEAD SPENDING REBELLION

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Shropshire CC and Lincolnshire police authority have taken the lead in the rebellion against the 1995-96 financial ...
Shropshire CC and Lincolnshire police authority have taken the lead in the rebellion against the 1995-96 financial settlement by breaching their capping limit.

Shropshire became the first English county to announce it had set a budget exceeding its cap last Friday. The news was relayed over loudspeakers to an estimated crowd of 1,000 who converged on the shirehall to protest at cuts to education and social services.

The agreed budget of £244.7 million - £6m above the cap - received all-party support. The extra spending would add £45 to band D properties and would mainly be spent on education.

Lincolnshire Police Authority committee decided unanimously last Friday to set a budget of £60.4m - £1.8m above its cap - adding £1.50 to the band D council tax in the county. It faces rebilling costs of £330,000 if its challenge fails.

A spokesman for the authority said the committee was not willing to consider losing 59 police officers out of a total of 1,200 to stay within the government's cap. The possibility of breaching capping limits was raised in two councils and one fire and civil defence authority this week.

South Yorkshire Fire and Civil Defence authority was due to consider a recommendation to exceed its cap by over £1m. The authority says it needs to spend £33.2m to maintain Home Office minimum standards but has had its cap set at £31.9m. Breaching its cap would be a high-risk strategy for the authority because it faces rebilling costs of £1m. It has had a freeze on recruitment of firefighters since June 1992.

A meeting of Oxfordshire CC on Tuesday failed to agree cuts of £23.5m to stay inside its capping limit. The day was characterised by widespread protest with teachers staging a half-day strike. A crowd of 2,000 protesters lobbied members as they gathered for the budget meeting.

The hung council resolved to meet next week to give the government time to yield to public pressure and increase its capping limit. It also agreed to consider the possibility of a legal challenge against its standard spending assessment.

Oxfordshire's Labour group, which holds 24 seats, has proposed the council exceeds its cap by £7m. The success of their proposals is likely to rest with Liberal Democrat members who hold 20 seats. The Conservatives are the largest group with 25 seats.

Veteran cap buster Gloucestershire CC is also considering a challenge to their spending limit. Labour members, who have 20 seats on the hung council, want to exceed its cap of £300.7m.

A faction of the dominant Lib Dem group, which holds 30 seats, is privately supporting the move.

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