A FULL council tax increase of 3% has been approved by councilors – rejecting opposition calls to scrap it.
Labor advisers have urged leaders to go back to the drawing board with their 2022-3 budget and give residents “a helping hand when they need it most”.
Leaders of Durham County Council’s Joint Administration said their first budget was affordable, prudent and ambitious, with millions of pounds earmarked for frontline services ‘from rat control to roads’, to the construction of schools and upgrading projects.
Read more: Durham County Council’s budget hailed by leaders as ‘the envy of councils’
Council leaders said the increase – billed as a 3 per cent rise in the adult social care precept with no rise in the council’s base tax – was ‘justified and necessary’ to deal with severe pressures on care social and supporting vulnerable people.
Councilor Rob Crute, deputy Labor leader and shadow cabinet member for finance, said a 3% council tax hike was “completely unacceptable”.
He said at the council meeting on Wednesday February 23: “We recognize that in normal times council tax increases are almost inevitable.
“These are not normal times.
“The coalition can step in and help our people when our central government has shamefully failed to do so.
“We cannot support this budget in its current form. Our residents deserve better.
“The cost of living crisis is putting almost unbearable pressure on households in County Durham.
“In exceptional times, exceptional measures are needed.
“We’re asking the coalition to recognize the financial hardship of our residents, drop their council tax proposals for this year, and come back with a better deal.”
He said new councilors had been elected on a promise to cut council tax: “Well, now it’s your turn.
“It’s time to choose which side you’re on.”
He and other Labor advisers cited the financial crisis, soaring fuel and energy costs, an upcoming National Insurance hike and “rampant inflation” already hitting residents.
Labor leader Cllr Carl Marshall said: “We should focus on the cause of poverty and try to alleviate it, not make it worse.
“It’s a travesty. We can play our small part in trying to support our communities.
“You’re putting pressure on hard-working people. People can’t afford it. They’ll see through it when the municipal tax bills hit their doormats in a few weeks.
“You have to go and think again. Support our communities when they need it most.”
Cllr Angela Surtees said: “The cost of living crisis will affect every family in County Durham, pushing our communities further into destitution and putting more pressure on support services.”
She said she could not support the budget as it “does nothing to support unique and uncertain times”.
Read more: What County Durham residents can expect to get from a 3% council tax hike
Cllr Lucy Hovvels said: “I believe this proposed budget puts a big, sticky plaster on social care.
“The council tax hike to pay for social care is a double whammy for our beleaguered residents.
“Many will find the 3% council tax a double burden and struggle to find that extra cash in their pockets.”
Cllr Olwyn Gunn said: ‘A 3% rise in council tax, by the time it gets down to pennies in the purse, can be the difference between a child having breakfast before school or going to school hungry.
“This government and this budget is not stabilizing for the children of County Durham.”
Cllr Peter Atkinson said: “Can I appeal to everyone, be compassionate, come up with something affordable.”
Council leader Cllr Amanda Hopgood said the joint Conservative-Liberal-Democratic-Independent administration’s first budget was prudent, affordable and ambitious, “delivering on its commitment to raise the bar”.
She outlined a £113million capital program including leisure centres, a new primary school in Spennymoor and rebuilding at Belmont Community School and £22million on roads.
Other investments included £9.9m for social care for children, £4.4m for waste disposal, £2.6m for home-to-school transport, and more for trash cans, guards, street cleaning, pest control, parks, countryside, decarbonization, nature reserves and housing estates. and upgrade.
Cllr Hopgood added: ‘Not raising council tax at all is not a sustainable or prudent strategy to adopt and we must carefully manage the council’s financial resources.’
She hit back at Labor saying: “What I see here today is a lack of ideas, a lack of ambition and a lack of amendments.
“Here’s a hashtag for your social media – #lacklustrelabour, because that’s what you are.”
Cllr Richard Bell, Deputy Head of Council and Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “We have avoided the temptation to raise council tax by the maximum 5% allowed, as the government expects.
“We know people are feeling the pressure of their income.
“Our council tax cut program – probably the most generous in the country – means 21,000 retirees pay nothing, as do 27,500 working-age claimants.”
Independent Cllr Alan Shield told Labor advisers: “You complain, you criticize, you confront and you condemn.
“This budget is comprehensive in its content, it is coherent in its clarity, it is stimulating in its scope, it is compelling in its vision.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Mark Wilkes said: “Despite the fact that we are investing in frontline services for the first time in a decade, Labor is voting against this budget without a single alternative suggestion.
“I fully support this first non-Labour budget in a century.
“Nothing has been offered by the Labor Party but a black hole.”
Independent Cllr Paul Sexton said: “Social care needs funding.
“We are not in crisis, but we are on the edge across the country. The 3% allows us to plan ahead for next year.”
The councilors approved the housing tax, the medium-term financial plan and the budget proposals by 64 votes against 47.