Council tax to rise by 1.99 per cent

County Hall, Morpeth.'REF 2008145303
County Hall, Morpeth.'REF 2008145303

Council tax is set to rise by nearly two per cent as officials look to make £44m in savings over the next two years.

Residents in Northumberland could face a 1.99 per cent increase after a late bid to freeze levels was rejected.

And households could face a further rise in 2016-17 as Northumberland County Council deals with cuts in government funding.

The budget for 2015-16 was approved at a meeting of the local authority’s policy board, and will now go before the full council on Wednesday, February 25.

One aspect of this is the refusal of the government’s grant to freeze council tax for 2015-16, which would amount to £1.7m for Northumberland, but is described as a ‘bribe’ by the council leader Grant Davey.

In the policy board meeting it was agreed that council tax would rise by 1.99 per cent – the maximum allowed without calling a referendum – in the forthcoming year and is likely to do so the following year, depending on referendum rules.

Blyth councillor and Lib Dem group leader Jeff Reid, proposing the authority accepts the grant and freezes council tax, said: “You’re asking the people of Northumberland for more money when there’s no need for it.”

He was backed by Conservative group leader Peter Jackson, who added: “I think it’s wrong to put up council tax.”

But Independent group leader Paul Kelly said: “It’s a con, it’s a deliberate attempt to weaken local government. It’s because of an agenda and that agenda is privatisation.”

With regards to the cuts from central government, it was once again highlighted that the council felt the government’s published spending power figures minimised the impact cuts were having, as they included ring-fenced funding and money not under the direct control of councils.

The figures showed a reduction from £307m to £304m, but stripping out the ring-fenced money saw Northumberland’s Settlement Funding Assessment fall from £139m to just over £119m – a drop of more than 14 per cent, although this is slightly less than the average nation-wide.

Coun Allan Hepple added: “We want the county to grow and prosper in the future and to do that we need to create more jobs and build more homes. I think the budget supports those aims, it’s an ambitious plan for investment.”

But while the administration focused on the positives, opposition members are less than impressed with a number of the proposals.

Coun Jackson said: “You’re moaning about funding cuts but you have also got this massive increase in capital expenditure.

“In the next two years, you will be OK and you will probably get through, but in the long term the viability of this council is being affected by this council.”

The council has already saved £160m over the last five years and is looking to make even more from the proposed move from County Hall in Morpeth.