A COUNCIL tax rise of 3.5 per cent and up to 50 more job losses have been approved by Town Hall bosses.

Bolton Council’s ruling cabinet met yesterday to approve proposals aimed at saving £8.8 million over the next two years.

The plans, which still need to go before a full council meeting next Wednesday, also include a reduction in spending on area forums, leisure, “one off events”, highways and adult social care and also dipping into the council's reserves.

Dozens of staff and union members gathered outside the Town Hall before the meeting to protest against the plans.

Bolton Council leader Cliff Morris said: “It was always going to be a challenge, but we’ve looked at it and we think this is fair. Job losses are also about lost opportunities for Bolton’s young people, because these are posts which will not exist in the future.”

But Bernadette Gallagher, branch secretary for Bolton Unison, said: “There comes a point in time when a line has to be drawn in the sand.

“Labour councils in Greater Manchester need to work more collaborateively to resist these cuts.”

The council’s cabinet had already approved a £34.6 million cuts programme — including the loss of 486 posts and service cuts — at a meeting last month.

But additional savings still had to be made after a reduction in government grants.

The Prime Minister had called for council tax to be frozen and had offered Bolton a grant of £1 million if it agreed to a freeze.

But the cabinet agreed the grant would not be enough to offset the prospect of further service cuts and backed a rise of 1.2 per cent — which equates to 3.5 per cent when additional charges for waste and transport, police and fire precepts are included.

The increase will raise an extra £1.7 million.

The cabinet also approved plans to use £8 million of its £10 million available reserves over the next four years to help offset further cuts, a move Town Hall bosses called “a calculated risk” and which will raise £2 million over the next two years.

The remaining £5,170,000 of savings needed will be found through cuts.

The council has frozen its council tax for three out of the last four years, and local authority bosses said the rise would see the majority of Bolton residents who are in Band A properties paying an extra 63p a week, or £32.94 a year.

Before yesterday’s decision the council had drawn up a list of possible cost-cutting measures.

This included the closure of libraries, scrapping area forums, closure of children’s centres and axeing leisure subsides for free swimming lessons and classes for the over 60s.

Those measures will not now go ahead.

Three other authorities in Greater Manchester have already announced plans to increase their council tax, with Manchester’s due to rise by 3.7 per cent, Oldham’s by 3.5 per cent and Rochdale’s by 3.5 per cent.

Cllr Morris said: “We didn’t come into local government to do things like this but we just have to try to be as fair as we can and protect the most vulnerable people, because if we don’t take care of them, who will?

“I appreciate things are tough for people but if we lose these services we can’t get them back.”

In raising council tax the authority would also risk the wrath of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

The government had set a new limit for how much council tax can be increased, with any more than two per cent supposed to trigger a town referendum.

But by calculating its figures without including tax charged to residents for waste and transport costs, the council has managed to avoid the referendum limit — even though its actual rise is 3.5 per cent.

Mr Pickles accused councils who had adopted the practice of “cheating” and pledged to clamp down on it next year.

But council chiefs said they had acted “perfectly within the rules”.

Cllr Morris added: “As far as Mr Pickles is concerned we’ve used his rules.

“He can’t come along and then say “I didn’t mean that”, he should have done his homework.”THE Bolton News’ Hospice at Home appeal has reached a landmark — and has launched its final push for donations.

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