The Big Read: No council tax rises this year

Most people's council tax will remain at last year's levels
Most people's council tax will remain at last year's levels

Taxpayers across the north of the county look set to benefit from council tax freezes for the coming financial year.

Almost all authorities in the area have chosen to implement a zero per cent rise in their council tax precepts.

Wellingborough, Kettering, Corby and East Northants councils, Northamptonshire County Council and Northamptonshire Police, have all agreed to, or signalled their intention to, enact a freeze.

They are among more than 200 authorities in England to have frozen or cut their rate.

Government legislation means most local authorities cannot increase their council tax precepts by more than two per cent unless it is approved in a local referendum.

Whitehall also offers grants to authorities which freeze or cut council tax, the equivalent of a one per cent rise, with Communities Secretary Eric Pickles encouraging all local authorities to avoid increasing their council tax bills.

Do you think council tax levels should be frozen, or would you want to pay more to protect certain services? Have your say.

Most council tax is paid to the county council, and its leader, Cllr Jim Harker, said a further freeze in the charge – the lowest set by any of the 27 shire counties in England – was in tune with people’s wishes.

He told councillors: “They want us to protect vital services but they also want to protect the pound in their pocket.

“It’s a real challenge at this time of austerity but this Conservative administration on this county council has a really proud record.”

Police commissioner Adam Simmonds said the two per cent cap on annual council tax rises meant he would not be able to raise more than £800,000 extra next year unless ratified by voters – a relatively small sum in the total police budget of more than £120m.

Mr Simmonds said efficiencies could be made elsewhere in order not to pass it on to the taxpayers.

He said: “I need to make sure the police force is efficient and effective as possible without asking the public for more.”

Kettering Council’s pledge not to raise council tax until at least 2015 forms part of its “three zeros” strategy, which also includes a promise not to cut front-line services or third sector grants.

Cabinet member Cllr Michael Brown said the council was making efficiency savings which also allowed it to protect funding for PCSOs and increasing the budget given to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

He said: “We are absolutely committed until the end of the term in 2015 to freezing council tax in the borough.”

Tom Beattie, leader of Corby Council, said: “With increases in the general cost of living throughout the country, as a local authority we did not want to put any added pressures on our residents by increasing the council tax bill.

“We have been out to consultation, listened to our residents and have proposed a zero per cent council tax rise which will be decided upon at full council.”

Wellingborough councillors this week unanimously backed a freeze in council tax for the third consecutive year.

Council leader Cllr Paul Bell said: “The most important thing is to help people in this difficult time.”

Election battlelines

The Conservative administration hopes freezing council tax again will go down well with voters ahead of May’s county council elections.

Cllr Bill Parker, portfolio holder for finance, said he was proud of his party’s record in County Hall.

He said: “This administration has the philosophy of taxing less in the good times and certainly in the challenging times. This is why we have the lowest council tax in the country.

“I am immensely proud of what we have achieved over the last four years. Wherever possible, savings have and will continue to be achieved. This budget, and previous ones, are the result of a vision and a long-term strategy.”

But other parties criticised the budget and decisions taken by the council.

Cllr Chris Stanbra, proposing a Liberal Democrat alternative budget, said: “We will switch the streetlights back on and spend £1m repairing pavements.

“We will invest in a new approach to jobs and the local economy and tackle youth unemployment.

“We will not let the Conservatives off the hook by blaming the Government. It’s the Conservatives who are making the wrong decisions locally.”

Labour’s finance spokesman Cllr Mark Bullock said: “It’s about sharing the pain, and in my opinion the pain has not been shared at the top in the way it should have been. It’s about fairness.”

Unison protesters

About two dozen protesters gathered at County Hall before county councillors voted on their 2013/14 budget last week.

Conservative councillors said voters would welcome a freeze in council tax, but demonstrators said they feared the knock-on effect on public services.

Members of the trade union Unison were protesting against public service cuts, specifically.

They were met by the leaders of the opposition parties at County Hall, the Liberal Democrats’ Brendan Glynane and Labour’s Corby councillor John McGhee.

One of the protesters, Unison member and Desborough town councillor Ben King, said the demonstrations would continue even after the budget was passed.

He said: “We are protesting because we are not happy with the cuts the county council are proposing and the impact it’s going to have on both staff and customers.

“Today they will be accepting proposals to cut the services and the changes to terms and conditions of staff.

“This is our last chance to tell them that we are not happy about it and tell them not to do it. We won’t give up, we’ll keep protesting until they give in.”