LIBERAL Democrats have proposed an amendment to the Wiltshire Council budget which would save residents across the county £2.8 million.

The Tory-controlled Cabinet have proposed plans to hike council tax by 4.99 per cent - the highest possible amount without a local referendum - despite achieving a budget surplus last year.

The move has been criticised by the Lib Dems, the main opposition group on Wiltshire Council, who say it will hit residents and businesses the hardest in what has been a tough year for all.

They say that in Wiltshire alone, over 15,000 children are living in poverty and many businesses are on the brink of failure because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They claim that each household is set to miss out on a potential saving of £15 if their budget amendment is not accepted.

Cllr Ian Thorn, Leader of the Wiltshire Lib Dem Group, said: “Wiltshire residents and businesses have worked hard this year to battle the impact of Covid.

"It’s the duty of Wiltshire Council to do as much as it can to help its residents. Raising council tax by nearly five per cent will only make life harder.

“We are proposing an increase of 3.99 per cent which will hand back £2.8 million to residents without affecting any council services. A welcome step towards recovery in Wiltshire.”

“Our view is that Wiltshire Council should not only consider its own financial wellbeing in the budget but the wellbeing of Wiltshire residents and businesses.

“This year, Wiltshire residents have been badly hit by Covid. We have another 1,000 children in Wiltshire entitled to free school meals and we have a public sector pay freeze.

“The Lib Dems and a future Lib Dem council will shift the balance from the needs of the council to the needs of our residents.”

Under the Lib Dem budget proposals, the Adult Social Care levy would be cut from three per cent in 2021/22 to two per cent in 2021/22 and they would apply a one per cent levy in 2022/23.

The loss of funding is around £2.841m in 2021/22. The £2.841m shortfall would be met by withdrawing funds from the Latent Demand Reserve.

The Lib Dems say they would increase the Hardship Fund from £300,000 to £1m in 2021/22. The pressure would come from a £700,000 shortfall, which would be made up by an additional draw of funds from the Collection Fund Volatility Reserve.

In addition, the Lib Dems would ring fence any in-year favourable variance that arises against the £1m reduction of Section 31 grants attributed to business rate reliefs in the budget report.

That variance would be transferred to an earmarked reserve specifically to support businesses that are in financial distress by giving them discretionary reliefs or discretionary grants.

Last month, the Conservatives announced that Wiltshire families could pay an extra 4.99 per cent on their council tax if their draft budget for 2021/22 is approved by full council on Tuesday, February 23.

Of that, 1.99 per cent is an increase in council tax for the council’s general spending, plus a three per cent social care levy.

This means that average Band D taxpayers will shell out £1,590.60 a year to cover the council's costs including highways, refuse, schools and social care. The 4.99 per cent is the maximum increase the council can charge before a local referendum is required.