Backing for 4.9% council tax rise for Hartlepool households

Hartlepool Civic Centre
Hartlepool Civic Centre

Councillors have given their backing to increasing council tax by 4.9% from April.

The rise will generate an additional £1.785m a year for Hartlepool Borough Council and includes a 2% increase for adult social care costs.

The increase was approved by the council’s Finance and Policy Committee yesterday and will go to all councillors for approval at a later meeting of the full council.

The committee were given the choice of increasing the council tax by 5.9% – the maximum allowed without triggering a referendum.

But Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, chair of the finance committee and council leader, said the authority’s budget agreed in December was based on a 4.9% increase.

He said: “My position as leader of the council hasn’t changed.

“I moved the budget on 4.9% and I wouldn’t advocate any increase above 4.9%.”

If approved by the full council it will be the third successive annual rise taxpayers have seen to their bills.

Continued cuts in Government funding and increased demand for children’s services have been blamed by the council for the rise.

Also backing the lower 4.9% increase, Coun Shane Moore said: “I know the difficulties on our budget that we are facing, especially in children’s services, but I’m also minded to note the difficulties faced by numerous families across the town in their own personal budgets.”

Coun Alan Clark said the council has written to the Department for Education and also Communities and Local Government for help as demand for children’s social care has gone up 40% in the last year.

He said: “This is a great challenge of our time. If we don’t go ahead with the increase then we are essentially letting the most vulnerable people in our society down, so on that basis I feel forced to accept that.”

Chris Little, the council’s director of finance, said it will have faced nine years of government grant cuts by 2019/20.

By that time over 60% of what the council spends will come from council tax compared to just under 50% in 2015/16.

Mr Little added increases in council tax generate more money for richer areas as they have more properties in the higher bands than places like Hartlepool.

But town resident Ray Pocklington said the council tax increases have forced people to cut down on their heating, lighting and food.

He said: “Have you ever considered what your increases are doing to the residents of this town?

“You are forcing some people into poverty.”

Coun Akers-Belcher said the council had frozen the tax for five out of the last seven years.