Northumberland councillors set to have their say on budget plans
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The financial plans for the next 12 months, which include a 4.62% rise in council tax and £17m in cuts, still need to be scrutinised and agreed by all 67 members of the council.
That process is set to take place over the next two weeks, with all councillors are set to have their say across three separate meetings.
The budget will be discussed in a public meeting for the first time today (Monday) at the council’s Corporate Services and Economic Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee. While this is only usually attended by a small number of committee members, all councillors have been invited to attend and scrutinise the proposed budget.
The comments from the scrutiny committee will then go on to the council’s cabinet on Tuesday. The cabinet is made up of Conservative members, with the Tories being the council’s largest party.
If, as expected, the cabinet agree to pass the budget, it will then go before full council on February 22. The budget is usually hotly debated, with councillors often taking several hours to go over decisions in minute detail.
The budget requires a majority of councillors to agree before it is put into force, and some difficulties could arise from this – the Conservatives are the largest party, but remain one seat short of an overall majority, and would need the support of either members of other parties or independent councillors to push their plans through.
The current political make-up of the council stands at 33 Conservatives, 20 Labour councillors, four Liberal Democrats and two Green party councillors, as well as a six-strong Independent Group alongside two councillors who are not aligned to any political party.
The council has said the budget is “focused on protecting frontline services, investing in the future and looking after the most vulnerable”. However it has come under fire from the Labour Party.
Of particular concern was the plan to increase council tax by the maximum allowed under new Government rules introduced by Jeremy Hunt in his Autumn Statement. The Tories have defended this rise by pointing out the council has a “generous” council tax support scheme and the fact a discount equivalent to one per cent of the Band D council tax increase is being recommended for some residents for the next year to help with the ongoing cost of living issue.
Labour has in turn argued that the council used to offer 100% in council tax for its most vulnerable residents.