Hartlepool councillors approve 3.9% council tax rise

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Councillors supported a planned 3.9% council tax rise for Hartlepool and laid the blame on the Government.

Members of Hartlepool Borough Council’s Finance and Policy committee voted by a majority in favour of the increase which will now be referred to the full council for final approval next month.

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, chair of the finance group and also council leader, said the authority had no choice.

It is after the town’s annual government grant was £2.1million less than expected and changes in government policy which put more burden on local councils.

That includes responsibility for social care costs being passed from the Government to town halls through a new expected 2% levy.

Coun Akers-Belcher 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.”

Chris Little, the council’s chief financial officer told yesterday’s meeting there had been a major change in central government’s policy around council tax and local funding.

He said bonuses to councils that freeze council tax had come to an end and central government funding for local authorities was being phased out altogether over the next four years.

As well as the proposed tax rise, the council plans to use around £1.3 million in money left over from last year and reserves to prevent cuts to frontline services.

Coun 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.”

A council report said a 3.9% increase will see most households in Hartlepool pay an extra 83p a week and added that for 96% of those households receiving Local Council Tax Support, the weekly increase will be no more than 10p.

Coun Brenda Loynes said Hartlepool Conservative Group was dead against the increase but added: “However, after the disappointing council tax grant received from central government and the almost mandatory social care precept by central government, the Conservative Group can offer no viable alternative suggestion to maintain council services, we therefore reluctantly will be supporting the 2% social care fund increase together with the 1.9% council tax increase as a recommendation to go before we full council in February.”

Independent Seaton councillor Paul Thompson voted against the increase. He said: “It ultimately means that hard-working families in this town who don’t benefit from Local Council Tax Support will pay anywhere between an extra £50 to £100 a year in council tax.”

He added: “There are elements in my opinion that are still extravagant wastes that we could take out [the budget].”

Coun David Riddle, who could not attend the meeting due to work commitments, said in a statement: “In short, I am fundamentally opposed to any rise in council tax, whether that be 3.9%, 1.9%, 1% or indeed any rise at all.

“Bins are emptied fortnightly, services continue to be cut, litter and potholes are worse now than ever before in the opinion of many residents.

“Yet here we are considering charging people more, for a service which is arguably worse than ever before.

“Some will argue this is a result of Tory austerity. I do not fully agree. Granted, government cuts haven’t helped the situation.

“However, nor have many of the calamitous decisions made over recent years by our ruling group of councillors.”

Ukip councillor George Springer also voted against the increase.