Cabinet backs 1.99% tax rise as Harrogate Borough Council warns income won't reach pre-pandemic levels until 2023

A 1.99% council tax rise has been backed by Harrogate Borough Council's cabinet after officials warned some of the authority's key income streams won't return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2023.

Thursday, 6th January 2022, 2:55 pm
Updated Thursday, 6th January 2022, 2:56 pm
If approved in February, the 1.99% rise will mean average Band D properties will pay £255.92 to Harrogate Borough Council.

Paul Foster, head of finance at the council, told a meeting last night that the rise equates to an extra £5 per household per year and was needed as the authority is still feeling the effects of Covid and decades of government funding cuts.

He said: "Given the impacts of the pandemic, we are provisionally forecasting a budgeted reduction in income of £150,000 in 2022/23.

"And income is not forecast to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2023/24 in the areas of commercial property, planning fees and Harrogate Convention Centre lettings."

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Mr Foster also said government grant allocations had been reduced by £8.2m since 2010 and that the council would have to use reserves cash to fund some major projects.

These include plans to accelerate a redevelopment of Harrogate Convention Centre, as well as carbon reduction works at the venue and other council-owned buildings.

Mr Foster said: "Overall, in order to produce a balanced budget, a net transfer from the budget transition fund of £142,000 is required.

"And finally, a thorough review of reserves has identified that just short of £4.5m can be repurposed, with a recommendation that £2.8m is set aside to fund the acceleration of works at the convention centre, and just short of £1.7m is set aside to support our carbon reduction strategy."

The tax rise has been proposed as part of the council's final ever budget before it is abolished and replaced with a new North Yorkshire-wide authority which will take over control of all services from April 2023.

This will mark the biggest changes to local government in the area for almost 50 years, with elections to the new council set to take place in May 2022.

Currently, Harrogate Borough Council makes up just under 13% of council tax bills, while North Yorkshire County Council makes up 70% and police and fire services the remainder.

If the proposed 1.99% increase gets a final approval in February, contributions to the borough council for the average Band D property will rise to £255.92.

This would make a further increase on council tax bills which for most Harrogate households rose above £2,000 for the first time last year.

Speaking at last night's meeting, councillor Graham Swift, deputy leader and cabinet member for resources, enterprise and economic development at the council, said the authority's council tax contributions represented "incredible value" and would help keep key services and projects running.

He said: "For £255 we not only empty the bins and provide local cleaning services, but also look after parks, gardens, leisure facilities, and health and homeless charity programmes.

"On top of that, we are still able to invest in meaningful activities that improve the district and lives of residents."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter