Hartlepool councillor claims authority has ‘wasted millions’

Coun David Riddle. Picture: Joe Spence.
Coun David Riddle. Picture: Joe Spence.

A Hartlepool councillor has challenged the council over its planned 3.9% tax hike accusing the authority of wasting millions over the last few years.

Hartlepool Borough Council Leader Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher has blamed the proposed increase in council tax on continued government funding cuts including £4.9 million less for next year.

You cannot continue to squeeze the hard working middle income families in Hartlepool

Councillor David Riddle

But Coun David Riddle, of Putting Hartlepool First, has questioned a number of financial decisions by the council that he says amount to millions.

He said: “It’s the council itself that needs to tighten its purse strings, not hard working people. Our council has wasted literally millions of pounds over the last few years.

“Why should hard working people be hit in the pocket to compensate for certain councillors mistakes?”

He highlighted decisions including the scrapping of the Local Plan in October 2013 which cost £1.5m, a £1.5m loan to buy the derelict Jacksons Landing and around £400,000 spent on Inspirations Cafe inside Stranton Cemetery.

Coun Riddle said the council has also waived hundreds of thousands in developer contributions attached to planning consents including around £800,000 from housing at Wynyard and £27,000 for 12 houses at the former King Oswy pub site.

He added: “You cannot continue to squeeze the hard working middle income families in Hartlepool.

“People are already feeling the pinch and have been cutting back on luxuries and non-essentials for years already.

“If you keep hitting middle and working class families in the pocket you reduce their disposable income.

“They’ll stop spending and that will hit literally every small and medium sized business in Hartlepool.”

The 3.9% rise, which includes a 2% precept to raise money for social care, is expected to be agreed at a full council meeting on February 18.

Coun Riddle has also accused council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher of misleading people over Hartlepool’s current council tax rate.

Coun Akers-Belcher has said Hartlepool ranked 271 out of 326 local authorities in 2015/16 for the average level of council tax per property, making it the 55th lowest average in the country.

But Coun Riddle has referred to figures produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government. They put Hartlepool as the third highest unitary authority area in England for households occupied by two adults, and ninth highest out of all 326 councils.

Coun Riddle said: “The very idea that we are 55th lowest is complete and utter spin.

“No one is interested in the statistical jiggery-pokery that the Leader of the Council is trying to peddle about ‘average council tax’. No one pays an ‘average council tax’.

“The leader is claiming that Hartlepool Council Tax levels are the 55th lowest in the country so I make him a simple challenge: to produce one, single council tax bill to any Hartlepool resident which shows that resident to be paying the 55th lowest council tax in the country.”

Hartlepool Borough Council says the 3.9% would see most households in town which fall into the cheaper bands pay 83p per week more.

Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “I do not intend to get into a war of words with Councillor Riddle.

“This council has been financially savaged by the Conservative government and despite this I, and a number of other councillors, am working very hard to protect key public services and to grow the town and make it a more attractive place to live and work.

“These developments have the potential to lever in vital extra resources to help support Council Tax and Business Rates even further in the future.”

Referring to the council forgoing developer contributions, Coun Akers-Belcher added: “When councils consider planning applications from developers they can seek contributions towards the likes of affordable housing, education, play and community facilities.

“With regards to the King Oswy pub site and Wynyard development, the Planning Committee were satisfied that in both cases the contributions from developers were appropriate and ensure that the developments can go ahead.”