Hartlepool councillors approve council tax rise - despite leader leader saying 'it goes against every fibre of his being'

Councillors approved increasing council tax next year by a total of 3.9%, with the budget passed by one vote.

Friday, 20th December 2019, 1:13 pm
Updated Friday, 20th December 2019, 2:00 pm
Picture c/o Pixabay
Picture c/o Pixabay

Councillors approved increasing council tax next year by a total of 3.9%, with the budget passed by one vote.

Council leader Coun Shane Moore said it goes against ‘every fibre of his being’ but there was ‘no viable alternative’ following years of government cuts impacting Hartlepool

The rise for 2020/21 is made up of the 2% adult social care precept, along with a 1.9% rise in core council tax.

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Hartlepool Civic Centre.

The budget proposals, which balance the books for 2020/21, went before the latest full meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council and passed by 13 votes to 12 amongst those councillors present.

Coun Moore, Brexit Party representative, said the budget proposals put the council in the ‘best possible financial position’ despite continuing pressures.

He said: “The government needs to recognise that continuing to shift the costs of these vital services onto council tax is not sustainable or fair.

“For me and the rest of the coalition it would have been very easy for us to propose a budget that froze council tax, buried our heads in the sand and burn through dwindling reserves to leave an even bigger problem for whoever is in control of the council after May.

“The thought of increasing council tax goes against every fibre of my being, even ideologically I’m opposed to it.

“Let’s not kid ourselves here, I don’t mean the council won’t have enough money for councillors to get a pay raise, because that’s no doubt what we’ll be excused of.

“We’re talking about not having enough money to pay for adult social care services for our vulnerable elderly, not having enough money to place our looked after children in good homes and give them the support they need.

“We’re not only proposing to put this town on the best financial footing its been in a decade, we’re also proposing to invest in our future too.”

He also added the council tax increase will be less than £1 a week for Band A and Band B properties, which make up 61% of households who pay full council tax.

Coun Moore also admitted to voting against council tax increases in the past ‘without fully engaging in the budget process’.

Coun Paddy Brown, leader of the Labour group on the council,  said they cannot put the strain of government cuts on families in the town.

He said: “We the Labour group cannot continue to push the burden of the national funding reductions on to the shoulders of the hard pressed Hartlepool families.

“Council tax is a highly aggressive tax that punishes those who can ill afford it. The Tories have tried to con the public by forcing councils to pass on the pain of cuts through council tax increases, and it’s time to say no more. 

“I can’t believe the Brexit Party promised time and time again never to raise council tax, yet here they are raising council tax for some of Hartlepool’s most vulnerable people.”

Despite receiving an increase in funding this year, the council has received £27.7million government grant cuts since 2013/14, with the North East suffering more than other areas in the country.

Coun James Black said although he has not always agreed with council spending choices, council tax increases are down to the ruling government.

He said: “The government needs to understand they can do this no more and I believe we will see the backbone of Britain erode further unless change comes, and it comes rapidly.

“One of the problems with council tax, no-one knows how much tax you pay to central government in a year, nobody appreciates the amount of VAT, NI, income tax.

“Yet almost everyone can recite their council tax bill.

“Let’s be clear, nothing can really help Hartlepool from the savage cuts that it’s faced.”

Coun Black also said the council needs to do everything to make sure it is ‘whiter than white’ with its spending, and again raised a motion to look at removing the ceremonial mayor role, alcohol at civic functions, and moving to a four-year-election cycle, which was approved.

The budget proposals also include plans to spend dedicated capital funding of £40.9million to renovate sports and leisure facilities, the Town Hall Theatre and Borough Hall, and historic sites in the town such as the Wingfield Castle.

Coun Moore said this would all ‘save the council money or make money in the future’.

However Coun Brown raised concerns the capital funding, made up of £13,395million prudential borrowing and Tees Valley Combined Authority funding, seems ‘unplanned’.