Hartlepool 'risks bankruptcy' unless tough council tax is approved

Leading Hartlepool councillors have warned of the risk of "bankruptcy" if they fail to pass a robust budget for next year.

Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 6:07 pm

A Hartlepool Borough Council full council meeting on Thursday will see councillors debate implementing a recommended 1.9% core council tax rise and a smaller 3% adult social care precept for the financial year 2022-23.

Officers reported last month the authority faces a cumulative deficit of £11.435 million for 2022-23 to 2024-25 although the increases would reduce this to £7.523 million.

Cllr Shane Moore, Independent Union council leader, stressed that the authority is continuing to lobby the Government for more funding.

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Failure to approve a robust council tax for 2022-23 could threaten Hartlepool with bankruptcy, it is feared.

But he added that it must still set a balanced budget and added: “We are focused on doing all we can to lobby the Government to increase our revenue budget grant back to previous levels and also make necessary savings where feasible.

“But we can’t simply gamble the future of our town on the idea that we might get more funding from Government.

“I’m not willing to jeopardise our council – one of the largest employers in the town that provides vital services including care for our most vulnerable – just out of principle.”

Independent Cllr Paddy Brown, chair of the economic growth and regeneration committee, added: “Our reserves have been hammered in recent years and although we have asked the Government step in to replace funds that were cut from our budget, I’m not willing to risk bankrupting our council if they don’t.”

The claim has been made by independent councillor Paddy Brown, who represents the Throston ward.

A report from Chris Little, director of resources and development, last month warned not increasing council tax “would significantly increase the budget cuts” needed.

It added this would “increase the risk the council reaches a point whereby a section 114 report is unavoidable”, due to expenditure in a financial year being likely to exceed resources.

This means no new expenditure is permitted, with the exception of funding statutory services.

Councillors from the leading coalition also warned the council tax vote can be used as “political point scoring” for opposition members.

Cllr Mike Young, Conservative group leader, said: “One thing that will never change is the pantomime of our council’s opposition. When they’re in power, our council tax goes up – but when they’re not, they’re dead against it.

“People aren’t stupid and they’ll see through it.”