Hartlepool chiefs aim for council tax freeze, despite crisis biting budgets

Cllr Mike Young, deputy council leader, said the authority must do 'everything it can to freeze council tax'Cllr Mike Young, deputy council leader, said the authority must do 'everything it can to freeze council tax'
Cllr Mike Young, deputy council leader, said the authority must do 'everything it can to freeze council tax'
Hartlepool’s leaders have vowed to do their utmost to freeze council tax bills next year, despite a gloomy financial outlook.

Councillors have pledged to lobby the Government and fully explore measures in an attempt to avoid households seeing a rise in their bills.

It came as Hartlepool Borough Council Finance and Policy Committee discussed its financial position and looked forward to 2021/22 and beyond.

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A report to councillors noted the forecast funding shortfall for 2021/22 is between £2.886m and £5.086m, depending on government funding, with the council’s position worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

However council chiefs said having a council tax freeze would be ‘explored’ and councillors stressed it must be a deep exploration, doing everything they can.

Cllr Mike Young, deputy council leader, said: “That’s not a trip to the shops, it’s a south pole expedition type exploration, because I think we need to do everything we can to freeze council tax.

“Some of the ideas I’m thinking of are a review of non-statutory services, and where outsourcing is a cheaper option, and potentially a better option, we need to look at those options.”

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Councillors also agreed a letter will be sent to the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government from Hartlepool Borough Council calling for a fully funded 2021/22 council tax freeze grant, and looking at other ways in which funding should be reviewed.

Cllr Jim Lindridge said: “We need to be lobbying as hard as we can, if there is a freeze it takes the pressure off local government.

“I do feel as if we’ve taken the brunt of this now and the responsibility has fallen on individual councillors rather than the Government.”

The letter will also call for a two year financial settlement from the Government for 2021/22 and 2022/23 to provide financial certainty during the Covid-19 recovery period, and long term sustainable funding for councils.

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Cllr Christopher Akers-Belcher called for a review of all council fees and charges going forward to see where savings could be made.

He also called for a review on how certain planning applications are dealt with to encourage housing growth, and council officers said this would be tied in to the new national planning consultation announced.

Chris Little, director of finance and policy, warned with the current funding arrangements the Government is ‘expecting’ local authorities to increase council tax.

He added lobbying the Government to fully fund a council tax freeze for 2021/22 is the most effective option to prevent council tax rising.

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He said: “In terms of the adult social care precept and the Government referendum limits, for want of a better phrase, I think they have effectively ‘nationalised’ council tax increases.

“The whole system for funding councils is predicated on councils increasing the revenue from council tax, through a combination of housing growth, a normal increase and the adult social care precept.

“Legally the local decision making still rests with the council.

“Councillors have the choice of either increasing council tax to protect council tax income and protect services, or accept if they implement lower increases or freezes there’s less revenue to support services and therefore budget cuts need to be made.”

He added in recent years the ‘vast majority’ of councils have implemented council tax increases, with just a ‘handful’ not doing so.

Councillors also noted they are in a better position following the Covid-19 pandemic than they would have been if they didn’t take the ‘difficult’ budget decisions last year.

Cllr Shane Moore, council leader, said: “I know hindsight is a wonderful thing, but had we not taken the decisions we had, finding ourselves in this position we would be in awful mess right now.”

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