Leaders defend decision to increase council tax again in Hartlepool

Council leaders in Hartlepool have defended the decision to increase council tax for a third successive year.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 23 February, 2018, 11:11
The increase was voted for at a meeting of the full council last night.

Councillors agreed a 4.9% rise to council tax at a meeting last night at Hartlepool Civic Centre, when they set a budget of £87million for 2018-19.

General council tax will increase by 2.9% from April, which includes 1% to ease pressure on children's social care, and a 2% rise specifically for adult social care.

Government cuts are among the reasons put forward by councillors for the rise.

Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher, the leader of Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “Since 2013, the government has cut Hartlepool Council’s annual grant by £20.9million and this has inevitably placed significant pressure on our budget.

“Between 2011-12 and 2015-16, the government paid additional grants to councils freezing council tax and Hartlepool Borough Council was able to freeze council tax for this period.

“Unfortunately, these additional grants ended in 2016-17 when the government introduced the new social care precept and revised council tax referendum limits.

“In essence, the government is simply shifting the burden of paying for vital services, including adult social care, from central government to local taxpayers.

"This is grossly unfair as other national taxes could have been increased to pay for these services."

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In 2017-18, national figures showed that 266 out of 326 local authority areas had a higher average council tax than Hartlepool.

The council was facing a budget deficit of £7.3million for 2018-19.

This will be addressed by budget cuts (£2.5million), use of reserves (£2.4million), a council tax increase (£1.1million), the social care precept (£0.7million), housing growth (£0.6million) and an adult social care support grant (£0.3million).

Coun Akers-Belcher added: "I believe the budget we have set for 2018-19 – including the council tax increase – is prudent and will enable us to protect the vast majority of frontline services.

“At the same time, we will be able to protect the most vulnerable people in our town, particularly the elderly and vulnerable children.

“When you consider the scale of the government cuts, it does make it very challenging to achieve on our ambition for the town but we remain hugely positive and are working tirelessly to ensure Hartlepool continues to prosper.

“This is demonstrated by the work which is well underway on £8million of projects to regenerate key parts of our town.

"Construction has started on a scheme to revitalise the Church Street and Church Square area and construction is also underway on a scheme to revitalise the Seaton Carew seafront.”

Government council tax referendum limits allow local authorities such as Hartlepool, which fund social care, to increase council tax by up to 6% next year.