Tax bill must rise, Kettering Council warned

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Kettering Council is facing pressure from all quarters to increase its council tax bill.

The authority has frozen the cost of its portion of the bill every year since 2011/12 with each Band B property paying £3.07 per week, despite pleas from some councillors to increase it.

New Government limits mean councils can increase their levels by the higher of three per cent or £5 per Band D property.

Should the council bring in the three per cent increase their income would rise by £200,000.

A consultation on this year’s rate will begin this month but the ruling Conservative administration has been warned by council officers and opposition and independent councillors not to freeze it again.

A paper set to be discussed at tomorrow’s (Wednesday’s) executive committee meeting said: “Although the draft budget figures for 2019/20 currently show a balanced budget at the same level of council tax, the increasing medium term pressures and risks clearly indicate that a continuation of the council’s previous council tax freeze ‘policy’ is no longer sustainable.

“The clear advice from the professional officers of the council is that members should consider increasing the level of council tax for 2019/20 by the threshold limit amount, three per cent.

“Taking into account the significant financial risks that the council is likely to face in 2020, this is most prudent course of action to take.”

Independent councillor Jim Hakewill, who left the Tories last year, urged the ruling group to put proper funding for services ahead of going for headlines before elections.

He said: “Last year my then Conservative colleagues criticised me for highlighting the professional finance team’s stark warnings about the impact of not raising council tax to cover increasing costs.

“This is entirely a political decision intended to make Conservative councillors appear more electable in future elections.

“It makes no sense to freeze council tax when, as everyone knows costs are rising, at a minimum by inflation.

“It would be even more crazy to adopt this policy into its ninth year when many Kettering councillors were so critical of Northamptonshire County Council who only froze council tax for two years, not nine.

“It is creating a legacy of too little funding for future services for taxpayers.

“Kettering Council have lost control of homelessness, which is £800,000 overspent in this year alone, equivalent to a 13 per cent increase in council tax.”

Cllr Hakewill’s comments were echoed by opposition leader Cllr Mick Scrimshaw.

The Labour councillor said: “Nobody wants to put up council tax but nobody wants to see an authority run to the ground.

“Locally we have seen what happens when this takes place and how it effects people.”

The paper set to be discussed by the council’s ruling group makes no mention of the executive’s stance on this year’s council tax.

When asked whether the council would look to increase it, finance portfolio holder Cllr Lloyd Bunday did not directly answer the question.

He said that the consultation starts with the executive tomorrow followed by a budget consultation the week after. Council tax will be set a a full council meeting in February.

Cllr Scrimshaw added that it was ‘ridiculous’ that they hadn’t outlined their position and that he believed they would freeze it again.