Northumberland Conservatives reject 'evil Dickensian Tories' label as cut in council tax support continues

Council tax support in Northumberland, which was cut by 8% earlier this year, will remain the same next year – despite ongoing opposition from Labour.

Thursday, 7th November 2019, 12:29 pm
Updated Saturday, 9th November 2019, 9:17 am
File photo of a council tax bill.

At a full meeting of Northumberland County Council, members voted by 34 to 26 to approve the continuation of the current scheme, with no changes, in 2020-21.

Since April this year, all working-age households in the county have had to pay a minimum of 8% of their council-tax bill, a cost-saving measure designed to save £1million a year.

The previous scheme provided up to 100%, meaning that some households paid no council tax, but the local authority agreed a reduction in the maximum level of support to 92% back in January.

Labour leader, Coun Susan Dungworth, said: “It won’t come as any surprise to know that I will be opposing this. We are firmly of the belief that it should be the council tax support scheme that was in place before last year.

“We have got families living in really, really dire circumstances in this county and the least we can do is offer that rebate. We will oppose it this year, we will oppose it next year and when we’re back in power the year after, we will reverse this.”

A string of other Labour councillors expressed their opposition as well, highlighting the numbers of children said to be living in poverty in their wards, with Coun Lynne Grimshaw describing it as ‘absolutely disgusting’.

However, Conservative council leader Peter Jackson said: “I didn’t think we were going to have to run the whole debate a year on. What we promised last year was that it was a one-off and we would continue that year on year.

“But I think some of the highlights from last year’s debate do need a public airing, because we’ve heard the Labour Party’s view from Northumberland.

“I do think you want to talk to your colleagues in the rest of the north of England. We, as a county council, still have one of the most generous council tax support schemes in the whole of the north of England.

“And you might have just forgotten what your plans were. The Labour Party’s written plans at the end of their administration was to have a 50% charge.”

To groans from the Labour benches, he added: “We wouldn’t have had to do this if we hadn’t had to balance the books last year. You lot left us with a deficit to fill, a black hole of £65million a year.”

The previous Labour and council leader, Grant Davey, hit back, saying: “As we told you last year, we would never, ever have accepted any motion or report onto the agenda that cut 50% from council tax support. Officers may have written those speculatively, but the Labour group did not and would not have ever accepted that.”

Labour’s Coun Deirdre Campbell added: “It’s a bit like the national Government, they have spent the last 10 years blaming the last Labour government for everything that’s happened, all the cuts that have been imposed on poor families throughout Britain, on the fact that they had so much to put right and now you’re following the same path.

“You talk about climate change and that’s wonderful, there’s been so much hot air in here today about climate change, but we need to look at the poor and how your party is punishing the poor and making them a scapegoat for everything that’s happened. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

But Coun David Bawn, a Conservative, said: “It’s all very good for you to get up and wring out your consciences and say evil Dickensian Tories rubbish. I am sick of hearing nonsense like this.

“We have to do realistic things to balance our budget and we have decided to introduce one of the most generous schemes in the north of England, yet the consciences of the Labour Party seem to stop at the border of Northumberland.”

This year, the cuts to support meant a council-tax bill of £98.55 per year for a couple/family or £73.91 for a single person in a typical band A property. There has been no change to the scheme for pensioners, which is prescribed by the Government and continues to pay up to 100% support.