Harrogate Borough Council's proposed 2% council tax rise is backed by opposition

The proposed council tax increase would be the first rise from Harrogate Borough Council since 2009.
The proposed council tax increase would be the first rise from Harrogate Borough Council since 2009.

The leader of the opposition at Harrogate Borough Council is supporting plans to increase council tax by almost two per cent.

Lib Dem leader Coun Pat Marsh (Hookstone) said it would be “unfair” to play party politics as the proposed rise was the only way to tackle government budget cuts and avoid cuts to frontline services.

The 1.99 per cent rise has been recommended in draft budget proposals for 2016/17, which have been backed by cabinet members at Harrogate Borough Council.

It will be the first time the authority has put up its element of the tax since 2009 following a six-year freeze.

Coun Marsh said: “None of us want to pay out extra money each month, but due to a significant reduction in the council’s central government grant, we see no alternative.

“We have had a council tax freeze for six years due to the coalition giving us a grant to do that, however it still meant we were losing money as we weren’t keeping up with inflation.

“As a result we are in a situation now that if we don’t do this frontline services will really suffer.

“Without playing party politics, it’s the best decision the cabinet can come up with.”

However, Coun Marsh said the council was still not out of the woods, as the authority’s budget was constantly being squeezed.

She said: “It’s now getting to the point where people are saying we could do without this and that. After years of being creative, we are down to the bone and we are starting to lose limbs if we aren’t bringing money in.

“We have got swimming pools and lovely parks and gardens that we are known for internationally. We don’t have to deliver these services and because we don’t have to, they are the ones that get cut.”

Coun Marsh said the council was in the process of employing a new commercial manager to help the authority to corner the commercial market and try and claw back the money that is no longer available from the government.

“In the future we will rely on business rates, council tax and what the council can get through a commercial arm.

“We will have to be very self-sufficient. It’s about rethinking the way we receive money and spend it. This is almost the start of it. Hopefully people will understand that and won’t take a negative attitude.”

If the increase is approved by full council this month, owners of a Band D property will pay an extra £4.37 a year, or 8p per week.

This week North Yorkshire Police revealed it was planning to put up its element of the tax up by 1.99 per cent and increases are also expected from North Yorkshire County Council.

After adding a parish council precept, Coun Marsh said council tax bills would be “quite a bit larger” this year.

“I hope people understand where the elements have come from when they receive their bills, and don’t attribute the whole rise to Harrogate Borough Council,” she said.

The council’s central government grant has reduced by £5.4 million - 54 per cent - over the last five years and further reductions are expected in the future.

It is expected that the authority will have to make around £1.65 million in savings to balance the budget in 2016/2017.

While agreeing with the rise, Coun Marsh assured taxpayers the opposition would be “keeping a firm eye” on how the money is spent.

“There are areas of concern. We have been opposed to the council office accommodation and we will be keeping an eye on that to make sure money is not being misdirected into what we think is an unnecessary scheme, as the old site is still fit for purpose.”

The draft budget proposals for 2016/17 will go before full council next Wednesday (February 10).