Hartlepool council tax frozen - but more cuts to come, warns leader

CUTS WARNING: Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher.
CUTS WARNING: Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher.

COUNCIL tax rates in Hartlepool are set to be frozen for the fifth year in a row, a council chief has said.

Hartlepool Borough Council leader, Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, outlined the authority’s budget plans to councillors and residents at the council’s Neighbourhood Forums.

The plans, due to be decided in December, include the council freezing its share of council tax from households.

But he also warned the council needs to find £5.6m as a result of the authority receiving less and less central Government funding.

He said by 2015-16, the council’s Government grant settlement will be 39 per cent less than what it was in 2010-11.

Coun Akers-Belcher, who is chair of the council’s Finance and Policy Committee, said the cuts mean Hartlepool will receive £225 less for every household in the town.

He said: “It is a huge challenge for the council to set the budget year on year.

“But there’s more to come. The cuts will continue and potentially we would be looking in another two years that we would get half the money the Government used to give us.”

Looking ahead, the council forecasts an £18.5m deficit by 2018-19.

But Coun Akers-Belcher said things like the Council Tax Support Scheme, which limits cuts in people’s benefit support, and the tax freeze, will help to ease the financial burden on residents.

He added: “I don’t know of any other council that for five years have had no council tax increase.

“I think we have done the right thing with the Council Tax Support Scheme which is benefiting the most needy in the community.”

Coun Akers-Belcher said savings will try to be made without people feeling the impact by merging some council neighbourhood services like traffic wardens and the authority’s enforcement team.

He said: “It will be done in such a way to minimise the impact on the general public.

“Hopefully, they should see a seamless transition from one year to the next.”

Hartlepool’s lifeguards and school crossing patrols that were identified for possible cuts have already been safeguarded after proving unpopular with residents and councillors.

Decisions on where service cuts are to be made will be considered by the council’s policy committees in November and Coun Akers-Belcher urged people attend.