Council says budget is fair despite rise in tax

Council chiefs have described their budget as ‘fair’ despite hitting residents with a near two per cent rise in their council tax bills.

Last week, Northumberland County Council voted 36 to 25 in favour of the 2014/15 budget moved by the Labour party which set out ways to deal with the cuts of £32.5m they had identified due to reduced funding from the government.

The spending plans include more support for schools, affordable housing, economic growth and free parking in some towns.

But the budget also set out an increase in council tax of 1.98 per cent, meaning those in a Band D property will pay £1,399.61.

Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader at the council, said: “Setting this budget was a real challenge but our aims were always to be fair to the residents of Northumberland while maintaining essential services and making improvements wherever possible.

“Some of the measures we’ve taken will not only ensure that cuts are fair to residents across the county but also delivery key improvements.”

Council leader Grant Davey said: “Despite the cuts there has been many positive achievements over the past nine months.

“We’re committed to maintaining front-line services, increasing jobs through partnerships with health and parish councils while we now have 138 young apprentices working with us.”

The council is considering scrapping free post-16 transport for students in the borough and following a review of the options will go out to public consultation.

However, Coun Davey warned that the financial situation was unlikely to improve in the near future with the council’s medium term financial plan estimating the authority will need to save another £130m over the next four years.

He said: “It is clear we are going to face more significant cuts in the coming years and work is already underway to plan for the future.”

But opposition councillors hit out at the council hitting residents in the pockets both with a rise in council tax and planned charges for post-16 transport, especially when government funding was available if they had frozen tax levels.

Conservative group leader Coun Peter Jackson said: “Labour say there is a cost of living crisis yet they’re planning to hike tax bills to the maximum amount they can get away with for hard working families.

“70 per cent of local councils are freezing council tax bills.

“Northumberland is out on a limb going for this two per cent increase. We already have one of the highest levels of taxes.

“This administration is happy to turn away government funding of £1.6m to keep our council tax bills down.

“We cannot support this budget as it breaks some aims in the corporate plan.”

Coun Jeff Reid, LibDem group leader, said: “We cannot support a budget that puts council tax up.

“There is government support available, we should take it, there is no reason not to.

“The amount you will get from the government is roughly what you will get from the rise from the public.

“It is all smoke and mirrors. Your budget doesn’t show how you will save the money.

“This budget does not stack up, there are holes in it.”