Green waste charges plan dropped - but council tax still looks set to rise in Hartlepool
Council chiefs have dropped plans for a green waste charge in Hartlepool but are continuing with proposals to increase council tax by 3.9% overall.
Finance chiefs noted it comes off the back of ‘nine years of austerity’ and the budget plans leave Hartlepool Borough Council with the ‘best base’ going forward for 2020/21.
Initially Hartlepool Borough Council bosses believed the budget deficit for 2020/21 would be £4.830million, but by September it had reduced to £2.636million following the government spending review.
Councillors had previously looked at bringing in an additional charge for green waste collection for the coming financial year in an attempt to provide additional income.
However council bosses have confirmed this has been dropped after a lack of support for the idea, with money being used from the budget support fund instead to balance the budget.
The council tax increase for 2020/21, which would include the 2% adult social care precept recommended by government, falls within the overall government referendum limit for a council tax increase.
It comes after council finance chiefs brought the latest update on the medium term financial strategy to the Finance and Policy Committee.
Council leader Coun Shane Moore said: “Having sat in opposition for many years, where you don’t get to see the fine details of how this council operates, it is sometimes very easy to sit there and say about how the ruling group is making decisions incorrectly.
“Having sat on this side of the table I can hand on heart say I’ve seen all of those details and engaged with it fully.
“We have all seen the reality of the situation, we know the difficult position the council has been in.
“What the report shows is that we have the ability to bring the budget deficit down significantly while protecting front line services and importantly there have been no redundancies.”
Coun Dave Hunter acknowledged the financial difficulties faced but added increasing council tax puts more pressure on families.
He said: “Part of me looks at it and thinks yes, we’ve got to go down that route.
“Then there is another part of me that looks at it and finds it extremely difficult putting even more pressure on families in Hartlepool, which this rise will do.
“I can see the impact it will have on services if we don’t go for it, but I’ve also got the moral side where I can see families struggling out there.”
Concerns were raised by Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher around the budget discussions happening so close to the General Election.
He also wanted the council to look at increasing aspects of its ‘fees and charges’ policy to help prevent council tax having to be increased.
He said: “My major concern has to be that we are proposing a budget that will be sent through to full council days before a General Election, and I actually think that it makes our decision political rather than based on what’s right for Hartlepool.”
Council chief executive Gill Alexander said the majority of councils in the area were also moving forward with budget discussions at this time, adding the majority of details had been revealed several months prior to the election announcement.
Councillors also approved a recommendation to look at fees and charges in-year and make any savings following the reports.
However finance chiefs noted it is unlikely any further increase, beyond the planned 2% in-line with inflation, would raise the required funds.
Chris Little, director of finance and policy at the council, said the budget put forward will put the council in the best position it can following years of austerity.
He said: “We’ve had nine years of austerity and the council has made huge changes.
“As a council I think we’ve managed the position well, we’ve maintained good services despite the cuts to resources.
“I think the budget proposals provide the best base we have for the council going forward.
“It’s very much part of the national funding strategy for local government that referendum limits are set, all of the government’s national figures assume councils will implement those council tax increases to fund services.
“If members didn’t increase council tax, other services are going to have to be cut.”
He also added the council tax increase will tackle just 22% of the budget deficit, with council using other measures to balance the books for the majority of finances.
Seven councillors voted in favour of the budget, with one against and two abstaining.
The proposals will now go before a full meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council in the coming weeks.