Council tax rise for Northumberland after councillors vote through rate increase and spending plans

Northumberland County Council has signed off on its budget for the coming year, which includes ambitious spending plans – and also a 4% council tax rise.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 19th February 2020, 6:25 pm
Updated Monday, 24th February 2020, 1:37 pm

The authority’s budget for 2020-21 and medium-term financial plan up to 2022 was approved by 38 votes to one, with 25 abstentions, at a full council meeting on February 19.

The vote saw the Labour opposition abstain rather than vote against.

This means that the following has been agreed:

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:: Cuts of just under £10million from the budget for the coming year, although while there are savings to be made on certain elements, the overall spending on adults and children’s services is increasing to meet growing demand.

:: Another £12million of budget-balancing measures need to be found in 2021-22.

:: A capital spending programme, on the likes of schools, leisure centres and infrastructure, totalling almost £680million over the next three years – £235million in 2020-21, £277million in 2021-22 and £167million in 2022-23.

:: A council-tax rise for residents of 3.99% – 2% ring-fenced for adult social care plus a 1.99% general increase, which is the largest permitted without holding a referendum. In addition, a 1.99% rise to the Northumbria Police element of the bill has been agreed by the Police and Crime Panel.

:: A rent increase for council tenants of 2.7% from April, in line with new government guidance for a rise based on the CPI measure of inflation of 1.7% plus 1%.

Council leader Peter Jackson described it as a ‘transformative’ budget, saying: “We want to get away from the talk and empty rhetoric of the self-serving Labour years. We want to focus on delivering.

“We are planning a great future for our county. We are developing a county that works for all.”

Coun Susan Dungworth, leader of the Labour group, said that there is a lot in the budget that the Labour group agrees with, not least projects that are building on work by the previous Labour administration.

She also said that it was a shame that it took Tory MPs getting elected to recognise the need in areas like Blyth, pointing out that it had existed when the Conservatives came into power nationally 10 years ago.

Lib Dem leader, Coun Jeff Reid, raised a number of concerns, including that both the planned savings and capital spending bore no resemblance to those set out in last year’s medium-term financial plan.

He also repeated his suggestion that rather than opting for the maximum allowed, the administration should decide on the level of council-tax rise actually needed and then put it to a referendum.

Coun Reid also described as ‘madness’ the plans to continue spending money on developing the proposals to bring back passenger rail services to the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line, which will end up being owned by other people – although this project has widespread, cross-party support in the council.

Coun Steven Bridgett, the ward member for Rothbury, was the only member to vote against the recommendations, because he was concerned about the future of Rothbury Library.

Coun Cath Homer, the cabinet member for arts, culture, leisure and tourism, tried to offer reassurance on this issue, stating that the current consultation, which has attracted more than 3,500 responses so far, is to find out what people want from their libraries going forward.

She added that it is nothing to do with efficiencies for the service listed in the budget, which she said have already been delivered for next year.

Coun Bridgett did, however, praise the £15million announced to improve rural roads and pavements over the next two years, saying it is the first new money for highways in years, given that the annual Local Transport Plan funding comes from the Government. “It’s a fantastic step forward, but it’s not enough,” he added.