Council tax freeze

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COUNTY council chiefs will be freezing their share of the council tax bill for a second year running despite having to find more than £16million in savings over the coming financial year.

At their budget meeting last week, councillors voted to accept a proposal for a freeze in council tax as part of a budget package including £16.6million in cuts and a £92million capital programme.

The budget agreed will also include a one-off £3.7million grant from the Government.

Council Executive Member for Corporate Resources Andrew Tebbutt said: “The council understands that many people are facing a squeeze on their finances and that household budgets are under great pressure. It is a difficult time for everyone financially and we feel it is important to do all we can to make life easier for residents.”

A freeze on council tax will mean additional savings of £3.7million will be needed next financial year on top of the £53.4million already due to be cut by 2016.

Councillors have pledged to build on the success of efficiencies that have saved around £101million since 2009 to protect front-line services.

“The decision to accept the government’s tax grant does mean we will need to find additional savings further down the line. This will undoubtedly be challenging, but these challenges will have to be met, and the efficiencies required will continue to be made in a planned way,” Coun Tebbutt added

Members approved the medium term financial plan, which details the authority’s spending commitments and priorities up until March 2016.

There will be an investment of at least £32.7million on affordable housing across Northumberland and £7million on broadband provision for rural communities. A total of £65.1million will be spent on highways improvements.

As for the 2012/13 budget, there will be a net revenue spend of £473.1million after £16.6 million of efficiency savings were agreed.

But the Conservative group’s free parking proposal for Northumberland residents, put forward as an amendment, was not supported by the Liberal Democrat administration or Labour group. The Tories believe that only visitors should pay to park in council-run car parks and those who live in the county should be able to use them without charge. Currently, fees are levied in the north and west areas of the county but not in the south east. The administration claims the plans are unaffordable and will not do anything to help traffic management.

Leader of Northumberland Conservatives Peter Jackson said after the meeting: “It is simply wrong that some people in Northumberland pay to park when others do not. Our plan for free parking is being blocked, but residents know that the next local elections are just 15 months away.”

However, Conservative councillors abstained in the vote because they supported the freeze in council tax made possible by a Government grant.

The savings have been carried across all sections of the authority and further reductions will need to be made in future budgets.

Council Executive Member for Corporate Resources Andrew Tebbutt said: “We have already made enormous efficiency savings of over £100million since the unitary authority was formed in 2009. I am delighted that the council has approved a budget which protects frontline services as far as possible.”