County passes two per cent rise in council tax

Residents in Northumberland will be hit with a higher than inflation increase in their council tax bills.

The Labour-led Northumberland County Council approved the 1.98 per cent rise – not including the Northumbria Police precept – while setting its budget on Tuesday.

The authority is facing the task of trying to make £32.5m of savings due to cuts from central government, with Labour officials believing its budget was the best way forward.

As well as the near two per cent rise in council tax, other budget proposals are to scrap free transport for post-16 education and to look at the future of council buildings, including potentially selling off County Hall in Morpeth.

Also being proposed was free car parking in most town centres, resulting in a loss of £2m income.

Labour member Coun Dave Ledger said: “Setting a budget in the current economic climate proposes a real problem for councils.

“The measures proposed will not only ensure savings are met but will help with key commitments such as affordable housing and free parking where local councils want it.

“We are under no illusion we will see more significant cuts from the government in the coming years.”

But the increased council tax sparked anger among opposition councillors who said it would hit families hard in the pockets at a time when many were struggling with their finances.

Conservative group leader Coun Peter Jackson said: “Northumberland is out on a limb with a two per cent rise, we already have one of the highest levels of council taxes.

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

Coun Jeff Reid, LibDem group leader, said the authority should be making use of the government grant available to councils which freeze council tax levels, saying it would bring in the same amount of money and wouldn’t hit residents in the pocket.

He added: “This budget is all smoke and mirrors. It doesn’t show how you will achieve the savings.”

The budget was approved by 36 votes to 25.