Hartlepool council tax bills set to rise by 4.9% as leader admits 'it's a terrible decision'
Calls have been made to lobby Government for fairer funding for Hartlepool as the local authority’s finance committee recommended increasing council tax for next year.
Councillors on the Finance and Policy Committee backed recommending a core council tax rise of 1.9%, along with a 3% increase in the Adult Social Care Precept, for 2022/23.
The authority currently faces a cumulative deficit of £11.435million for the years 2022/23 to 2024/25, and the increases will generate recurring income and reduce the overall deficit to £7.523million.
The precept was deferred from 2021/22 as councils had flexibility to implement this in either 2021/22 or 2022/23, while the 1.9% rise is subject to the Government confirming its council tax referendum limits later this year.
In 2021/22 council tax increased on average by 4.4% nationally, however Hartlepool had a freeze.
Councillors also backed writing to Hartlepool’s Conservative MP Jill Mortimer to call on her to lobby Government for fairer funding for the council, and to ask her to come to a future Finance and Policy Committee meeting to hear about the situation in more detail.
Council leader Cllr Shane Moore said council tax is a “broken system” but they have “no choice” but to increase it for next year.
The Independent Union representative said: “The sad reality is there is going to have to be some kind of service cuts, and the choice there is quite stark
“We can say we won’t increase council tax, but then we’ll be instructing corporate management team to come back and find £11.43million worth of service cuts.
“Or we can put our big boy pants on, and accept that we’ve got no other choice, and it’s a terrible decision, I’m sure you’ll all agree.
“But £7.5million worth of budget cuts, whilst not great still, and certainly not palatable, it’s much better than the absolute devastation £11.4million would cause to this town.”
He added it was “far easier” for the Government to put the funding responsibility on councils instead of having to take “the brunt of it” themselves by providing extra funding.
Officers noted the council has had a 63% reduction in its core grant funding from Government since 2013/14, dropping from £50.740million to £19.022million in 2021/22.
Three Labour councillors on the committee voted against the recommendations, with the remaining seven councillors voting in favour.
Labour’s Cllr Brenda Harrison stressed in writing to town MP Jill Mortimer they also need to be calling for a change to the wider council tax funding system.
She said: “I don’t really know how much more we can take, it’s totally unfair.
“I also think we should be looking at trying to address the council tax system, it’s one of the most unfair systems that there’s ever been, in my lifetime, and it’s becoming more and more unfair.”
Conservative Cllr Cameron Stokell said he fully supported lobbying the MP, but warned the authority needs to set a budget for next year.
He said: “The stark reality is if we do not increase council tax we are facing a nearly £11.5million deficit and when 67.9% of our budget is spent on adult and child social care, who is that going to hit most? It’s those vulnerable people.”
Cllr Pamela Hargreaves said she sympathised with the job council officers are facing, but stressed increased funding has to be provided from Government, and they cannot place the burden on residents.
The Labour councillor said: “If I’m in the Manor House ward I’m not thinking about all these tables and making the best use of reserves.
“I’m looking at it as I’m going to get a council tax increase, a 1.25% increase on National Insurance, I’ve got increased living costs, I’ve got a freeze in my wages or my job is under threat, and I’ve got cuts in my Universal Credit.”
She added: “That’s a drastic picture for residents. We can’t ask the hard working people out there to fund this.”
Chris Little, council director of resources and development, warned it is very unlikely more funding will come to the local authority, especially for next year.
He said: “I personally don’t actually have much hope that we’ll see a change, certainly not for the next financial year.
“There isn’t suddenly going to be something coming over the horizon that can solve the problems that we face.”
Council chiefs will also be looking to work on developing a multi-year Transformation and Savings Plan to tackle the budget deficit they are facing.
The report will now go before a Full Council meeting later this month.