Hartlepool leaders push for council tax freeze for 2021/22 - despite concerns it will cause 'more difficult decisions' in future years

Hartlepool’s political leaders are pushing ahead with a council tax freeze for residents in Hartlepool as part of budget plans for the coming year, despite concerns it could cause more difficulties in future years.

Monday, 25th January 2021, 4:58 pm

Cllr Shane Moore, Hartlepool Borough Council leader, raised the motion to freeze council tax for 2021/22 at the finance and policy committee on Monday, January 25.

The proposal, which includes a freeze in both core council tax and the adult social care precept, was unanimously backed by councillors on the committee, and will now go before full council on Thursday, January 28, for approval.

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Council tax bills in Hartlepool look set to remain unchanged this year, as leaders brush aside finance officers' concerns and opt to give people 'breathing space' amid the impacts of the pandemic

Cllr Moore, who represents the Independent Union on the council, said given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic it was important to give residents ‘breathing space’.

He said: “For me, whilst it does go against the professional advice, the general consensus is people do need a little bit of breathing space this year.

“If there is an option to defer decisions until a later date and give us more time to lead in to look at what the landscape looks like next year, then it is one we should be certainly looking at this time around.”

He added it was important the council has a ‘united voice’ to make people aware of the Government shifting funding pressures on to local councils .

Council leader Cllr Shane Moore

Cllr Mike Young, deputy council leader, also backed the proposals to freeze council tax.

The Conservatives representative said: “It’s really difficult circumstances, we are still in the grip of a pandemic and I think to add further burden to the population of the town is unfair.”

Cllr Stephen Thomas, Labour Party representative on the committee, backed the freeze and hit out at the increased funding pressures placed on local authorities like Hartlepool due to the lack of Government funding.

He said: “It’s not just a rainy day at the moment, we’re in an absolute deluge, we’re in the middle of monsoon season.”

Hartlepool's political leaders are pushing for a council tax freeze for 2021/22, despite concerns raised by finance officers.

He added: “Placing a 5% council tax increase on residents would be absolutely inappropriate at this point in time, but we do appreciate the difficulties that this council is facing going forward and where much of the blame for that lies.”

Mr Little warned after nine year of austerity the authority has made significant cuts in services, and going forward it will only get more difficult.

He said: “In my professional view a proposal not to increase council tax and the social care precept is not a robust decision because it’s going to require the authority to make more difficult decisions in future years.

“No-one wants to increase council tax, particularly in a pandemic, particularly in a town that has relatively high levels of deprivation, we’re all in a really difficult position.

“It’s not just this year’s budget, we need to be trying to put in place the financial foundations for the future years.”

It was previously agreed the council would use reserves to balance the budget for 2021/22, and no council tax rise or adult social care precept means the council will defer a deficit of just over £4million to 2022/23.

This would mean they would have to use around £5.2million from the council’s budget support fund for 2021/22, leaving around £3.4million uncommitted for future years.

However, a proposal was also passed to carry forward one-off funding of around £1million from Government to help offset the costs of the council tax freeze, which could have been used to provide additional support to Local Council Tax Support (LCTS) claimants.

Cllr Young, who raised the motion, noted at 12% Hartlepool already has the best LCTS rate in the Tees Valley, and this would allow funding to be spread out across all residents.

Those applicable for the LCTS scheme have to pay a minimum 12% of their council tax, with councils required to fully protect low income pensioners eligible for LCTS support.

Cllr Leisa Smith added there are a lot of ‘working poor’ in the town who will get Universal Credit, but do not receive LCTS, and the motion would mean the funding could be used to help more people.

Mr Little added this was the most robust option for the funds and means the council still provides ‘significantly more support to LCTS households’ than most local authorities in the area.

The motion to include this was passed by eight votes to three by councillors on the committee.

Cllr Christopher Akers-Belcher was one of those who raised concerns over not using the funding to support LCTS claimants in 2021/22, noting they currently pay no council tax this year due to funding support in place, which came from Government.

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