Hartlepool Council leader blames 'ruthless' Government for council tax hike

Councillors have blamed the Government for a planned council tax rise.
Councillors have blamed the Government for a planned council tax rise.

Hartlepool Council's leader has slammed the Government over plans for a council tax hike - and says there was 'no alternative' but to impose the rise.

Hartlepool councillors have spoken out strongly and laid the responsibility for a proposed 3.9% rise in Council Tax from April firmly at the Government’s door.

The authority’s Finance & Policy Committee met this morning to consider a report from the Council’s Corporate Management Team following further cuts in Government funding.

Just before Christmas it was announced that Hartlepool Council is to lose a further £2.1m in Government grant for 2016/17 – on top of the £2.8m reduction it was already anticipating.

The authority also has to cope with the loss of £3.9m in Business Rates every year following a recent decision by the Valuation Office Agency to reduce Business Rates paid by Hartlepool Power Station.

Hartlepool Council has frozen Council Tax for the last five years – the only Tees Valley council to do so – but the report identifies that a change in government policy means that the era of Council Tax freezes are now over.

For the 2016/17 financial year, the Government’s settlement announcement

assumes that local councils will increase the level of Council Tax by 3.9% per annum – which includes the Government’s new 2% Social Care Levy.

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, chair of the Finance & Resources Committee and Leader of Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “We’ve managed to freeze Council Tax for the last five years but due to the further, huge, cuts in Government funding and a shift in Government policy, councillors were left with no alternative but to propose an increase from April.

“The recent grant settlement was ruthless and demonstrates the total disregard this Government has for the real needs of the people of Hartlepool.”

The report highlighted that a 3.9% increase will result in the large majority of households (72% in Bands A and B) facing an increase of 83p per week. For the 96% of households receiving Local Council Tax Support, the increase will be no more than 10p per week.

Councillors at the meeting heard that if Council Tax did not go up, the Council couldn’t continue to provide many vital services.

Councillor Akers-Belcher added: “Despite the cuts in Government funding so far, the Council has managed the situation well and we have been able to protect the vast majority of services to local people without increasing Council Tax.

“However, the cuts in funding, coupled with the change in Government policy means that the only way we can protect vital frontline services for 2016/17 is to increase Council Tax by the recommended Government level.

“At the same time we must continue to secure further investment into the town to ensure that our ambition through the Hartlepool Vision for a more prosperous town in the future comes to fruition.

“We will not allow the town to stand still. We must be bold and positive and do everything we can to ensure that Hartlepool is a town where people want to live, work and visit.”

By 2019/20, Hartlepool Council will have seen its Government funding cut by two-thirds (£38m) from 2011/12 when the austerity cuts were first introduced.

The proposal to increase Council Tax will go to a meeting of the Full Council which involves all 33 councillors. The meeting on Thursday 18 February at 7pm will be held in the Civic Centre.