Council tax to rise by 1.99% in County Durham

Talks will also start on a rise in councillors' allowances after an independent panel said they should go up by 1%

Simon Henig says the North East needs new powers to help it keep pace with other areas of the country
Durham County Council leader Simon Henig

Council tax is set to rise by almost 2% in County Durham as cuts continue to bite.

All of Durham County Council’s members met yesterday and also backed a report which could lead to members getting a pay rise in their basic allowance in the coming months.

It comes as the authority, which has to find almost £250m of cuts between 2010 and 2017, reviews its finances for the next year.

In voting for a tax hike of 1.99% - the maximum allowable before the council must conduct a referendum - the Labour-led council refuses a £2.4m Government grant for freezing the levy.

Council leader Simon Henig said, however, a public consultation showed residents were more supportive of a small tax hike than further cuts to frontline services.

The rise is the council’s first since 2010 and Coun Henig said, as accepting the freeze grant meant simply delaying any rise, it was inevitable in the long run.

He said it could “not be justified any longer” and added: “By accepting the council tax freeze grant we have already lost £7m of income compared to what we would have saved had we steadily increased council tax.”

Other political groups attempted to make alternative budget proposals which were all rejected by the Labour majority.

The Liberal Democrats proposed putting more money into the highways budget as well as freezing council tax, cutting management, marketing and travel expenses.

Conservative group leader Coun Richard Bell also proposed freezing council tax but said the County Durham News magazine and some back office functions should be cut.

The budget includes a £262m investment programme, with £5m for a new Durham bus station, £1.3m for roads and £50m to improve council houses,

The council backed a report by an independent panel which says talks on a 1% rise in members’ allowances should go ahead.

The panel says a future pay rise would see allowances keep pace with inflation and encourage more people to get involved in local politics.

However, members agreed to leave allowances at the same rate as this year pending further talks. Independent councillor John Shuttleworth said accepting a rise with a backdrop of cuts was wrong, adding: “We have to lead by example.”

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