Have your say on council’s spending

Tis Harrogate Council Offices on Crescent Gardens.(1401045b)
Tis Harrogate Council Offices on Crescent Gardens.(1401045b)

Harrogate Borough Council is carrying out two major financial consulations this autumn.

Over the past two years the council has seen cuts of £2.7m from goverment grants and anticipate a further £790,000 drop next year.

The council has not increased its council tax over this period and has so far managed to plug the funding gap by making major efficiency savings and have saved £3.6m from its budget in recent years.

The estimated net spending requirment for 2013/2014 is between £21.115m and £21.846m.

Based on these figures around £745,000 will need to be generated from cost reductions or additional income to achieve a balanced budget.

The council is asking local residents, businesses and voluntary organisations for their thoughts on its proposals for setting a balanced budget for next year via a questionnaire on their website, The Autumn Survey 2012, which closes on October 30.

They are seeking views on the measures available including an indication of the preferred level of council tax increase and possible service reductions.

Coun Ivor Fox said: “Although this council is responsible for collecting council tax for all the local precepting bodies, North Yorkshire County Council, North Yorkshire Police, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue and Parish Councils, it gets to keep just 14p in every pound collected.”

The council is facing more financial uncertainty due to the government’s changes to the way council tax benefit is administered and funded.

As part of welfare reform the Government has announced that council tax benefit is to be abolished and replaced from April 2013 by new local financial support schemes, funded and administered by local councils, called council tax support.

The Government funding will be cut by 10 per cent, which for Harrogate Borough Council will mean a drop of £112,000.

CounFox said: “Our position has been better than many district councils and we have been able to absorb much of the cuts in grant. But each year it is getting more difficult. However, we are keen to make sure that the cuts in council tax benefit grant do not impact on the most vulnerable in our society.

“We are planning to make sure that those most in need do not see a reduction in the help they get with their council tax at least for the next financial year.”

As the Government has given the council a very short amount of time to make changes and cuts could mean lower income households paying up to 20 per cent more council tax annually, Harrogate Borough Council has decided where possible to keep the current council tax benefit scheme for at least the next year.

The council is consulting the public regarding other proposals which include abolishing the discount on council tax for second homes, and applying council tax premium of 25 per cent on houses which have been unoccupied for over two years and applying 50 per cent council tax charge on properties whcih are empty for up to six months.

The questionnaire will be available online until November 4.

Once the consultation is complete it will be presented to councillors who will use it to help shape their decisions in time for the deadline prescribed by the Government of January 31 2013.

For paper questionaires call 01423 556068.