Households face 3.8p a week extra on bills

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TOWN councillors have settled on a two per cent rise in their share of Council Tax to cover local services.

Morpeth Town Council has set the precept at £520,475 for the coming financial year to maintain service standards at a time of growing inflation.

The authority had been prepared to set aside more cash to take on extra services from Northumberland County Council, such as grass cutting, after a warning in December that they could be withdrawn.

However, the unitary authority has now confirmed that they will not be removed or reduced this year to allow more time for talks with town and parish councils about the issue.

Town councillor David Parker, who chairs the authority’s Finance and General Purposes Committee, was then able to present the budget as originally planned, including an additional cost to each Band D household of 3.8p a week.

“Such a budget will enable the council to continue providing all the services that it currently offers,” he said.

“It will enable it to maintain its present staffing level, with a small reduction in hours for one part-time staff member. It will ensure that another member of staff can be permanently located at a desk in the entrance to the Town Hall, along with someone from the Registrars’ department, to take bookings.

“It will ensure that the council can meet the cost of its contractors following the recent re-tendering process, apart from a small adjustment in the arrangements for the provision of public toilets.”

Coun Parker said that the council’s forthcoming office move into the Town Hall will improve service without any increase in expenditure, and that the authority will continue to meet the costs of the historic Mayoralty.

He added: “The budget makes adequate provision for the maintenance of the council’s assets, as well as for the cost of the upkeep of the two community centres and of the various play areas for which the council has responsibility.

“It will enable the council to seek success in the Northumbria In Bloom competition for the seventh successive time and meet the cost of Christmas lights.

“Vital ongoing core financial support for significant Morpeth organisations will continue to be provided, as well as funds being available for occasional grants to local organisations for specific projects.”

Members accepted the proposed budget, with just one vote against, but they complained that the county council’s earlier letter about possible service cuts had caused great alarm.

Coun Nic Best said: “It is a great pity that the county council, if it had no intention of withdrawing services, put this letter out in December. It caused disruption to parish councils over the Christmas period, which was unnecessary.”

And Coun Derek Thompson said: “I’m really concerned about the way the county council is conducting relations with the town and parish councils.

“The lines of communication should be quite clear, but what seems to be happening is the present administration is bungling from one issue to another and this is causing concern among the different authorities.I’m really concerned about the way the county council is conducting relations and it doesn’t seem to be bothered about smaller parish councils.”

Coun Parker defended the unitary authority, saying it had to consider the withdrawal of some services when it was feared that budgets would be cut by £60million, but since December it has learned that the figure is now £45million.

“The cuts that are required are a good deal less so the pressure on it to even consider cutting certain services has passed. On December 23 that was not the situation, it is now,” he said.

The council heard that a report will be presented to the Finance and General Purposes Committee to draw up criteria for taking on extra services in the future.