Council tax rise draws criticism

County Hall, Morpeth.
County Hall, Morpeth.

TUESDAY’S debate on the 2014/15 county council budget, which approved cuts of £32.5million, focused on the rise in council tax and the blame game.

Opening the debate, Deputy Leader of Northumberland County Council Dave Ledger said: “It’s clear the Government has placed a financial strait-jacket on Northumberland and many councils around the country, more particularly in the north of England.”

And many of his Labour colleagues echoed his views and blamed the Coalition Government for the current financial woes of the authority, which will also see £130million cut over the next four years.

However, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition councillors criticised the decision to refuse the Council Tax Freeze Grant — more than £1.5million — from Government and to raise the county council element of council tax by 1.98 per cent.

Tory Leader Peter Jackson said: “You are determined to hike council tax bills up by the maximum amount possible without a care for those hard-pressed families who will be forced to pay the increase.

“A tax-and-spend budget that threatens to wreck our council finances just as the Labour Government did when it was in power.

“The Conservative Group utterly rejects any increase in tax for people already struggling to pay their daily bills.

“We fear for the future of an indebted council and we will vote against this budget today.”

Lib-Dem Leader Jeff Reid was not quite as critical, but did say: “I can’t support a council tax rise.

“I can’t support turning down Government support when funding is available. You should have just taken the money.”

But Independent Group Leader Paul Kelly had a different view, saying this budget corrected the previous Administration’s mistake of ‘accepting the gift from the Greeks’ and weakening further the position of local government.

The Labour administration points out that while including millions of pounds worth of savings, spending plans include more support for schools, affordable housing, regeneration and economic growth, as well as providing for the introduction of free parking in a number of communities across Northumberland, including Morpeth.

However, Coun Andrew Tebutt, who was Member for Corporate Resources under the previous Administration, criticised spending £2.5million on bringing in free car parking when savings of £32.5million were needed.

He said that he has never understood the push for free car parking when people spend £15,000/£20,000 on a car.

“I always knew this budget was going to be a difficult one, but I think it’s a missed opportunity,” he added.

But Council Leader Grant Davey closed the debate by claiming it was “the best budget you’re going to get anywhere in Britain today with £32.5million of cuts”.

It was approved with 36 members voting for and 25 against.