Hartlepool households face council tax rise as leaders warn of 'crippling' costs

Council tax is set to rise by almost four per cent in Hartlepool next year as cash-strapped council chiefs bid to balance the books.

Monday, 30th September 2019, 4:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 1st October 2019, 5:36 pm

Hartlepool Borough Council leaders have laid out their initial budget plans for 2020/21, which includes a council tax increase, and have pledged to work together to battle ‘crippling’ social care costs.

Initially council bosses believed the budget deficit for 2020/21 would be £4.830million, but it was reduced to £2.636million following the government spending review.

The plans include a core council tax increase of 1.9% and a 2% adult social care precept.

Hartlepool Civic Centre

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The total of 3.9% is less than the forecast national council tax referendum limit of 4.5% to 5% – the point at which council chiefs would have to hold a public vote in Hartlepool to approve the rise.

Councillors on the Finance and Policy Committee agreed pressures on adult and children’s social care were impacting the budget, leaving them needing to make difficult decisions.

Council leader Coun Shane Moore said: “The social care and children’s services, it’s crippling us. Until central government take notice and invest at a higher level we’ve just got to do the best we can.

“It’s right for us all to put party politics aside and for us all to work together and make sure we do the best for our residents on this.

“We have to take some difficult decisions at times but it’s right because we need to look after residents.”

Council finance bosses said the government spending review had a ‘good positive impact’ for the council, providing an additional £1.5billion for social care for councils nationwide, although only £1billion is from grant funding.

The remaining money is to be provided by the continuation of the adult social care precept, which the government proposes is set to 2%, which forms part of council tax.

Council bosses said the forecast assumes all authorities will implement the increase.

Coun Jim Lindridge, who represents the Labour Party, said: “It’s disappointing we’re getting pushed back by the government in terms of funding for looked after children.

“With all the reductions we’ve had to put up with we’re doing a fantastic job, my biggest concern is with the adult social and the demand which we can’t do anything about.

“The demand is going to get greater and we’re going to have to find some way of coping with it and unfortunately one of the ways is we’re going to have to increase council tax, whether we like it or not.”

However, core funding from government will increase by inflation next year, following nine years of funding cuts, while the public health grant will also increase in line with inflation.

But finance chiefs stressed government funding in Hartlepool has reduced by almost £21million, or 45% since 2013/14, and there has been a national shift in funding for councils from government grants to council tax since then.

Proposed savings

Further proposed savings by the council are to be made by looking at overheads, income generation, transforming children and adult, care and wellbeing services, and waste management and environmental services.

It is estimated the savings in these areas will total £2,3450,000, leaving £291,000 to be addressed.

Proposals for the remaining savings will be made at a later date, but will be based on achieving £0.1million from reviewing fees/charges and 0.191million from a further review of expenditure budgets.

Chris Little, council director of finance and policy, said: “The package before you gets within £291,000 of a balanced budget, which I think at the end of September is a good position to be in.

“On the back of nine years of austerity, every budget going forward will always be the most difficult.

“Equally 58% of our budget is spent on children and adult social care and to make further reductions in those areas is extremely difficult, and it is a challenge facing most authorities.”

He also highlighted the importance of housing growth in achieving a boost for council tax, and housing growth in Hartlepool from 2014/15 is 11.46%, compared to the 9.62% Tees Valley average, which has brought the council an additional £3.31million recurring income.

The budget plan for 2020/21 also currently avoids the use of council reserves, which had to be used to balance the budget last year.

A brief survey will be used for public consultation on the budget proposals and is to be launched soon via the council website, with the final budget then going before the council for approval in the coming months.