Staffing a key concern as Harrogate council budget proposals and 1.99% tax rise move forward

The staffing of council services in Harrogate has been raised as a key concern as budget proposals including a 1.99% tax increase move a step forward.
Services including bin collections have been hit by staffing shortages.Services including bin collections have been hit by staffing shortages.
Services including bin collections have been hit by staffing shortages.

Members of Harrogate Borough Council's overview and scrutiny commission yesterday quizzed senior officials over their spending plans for 2022/23 which will be the council's final full year before it is replaced with a new unitary authority covering the whole of North Yorkshire.

Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Aldred, chair of the overview and scrutiny commission, said staffing would be a "big challenge" during the year as some workers worried about job security look to leave local government.

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"It is really important that we hang onto the good staff we have," councillor Aldred said.

"As we move closer to 1 April 2023 when our beloved Harrogate Borough Council will cease to exist, staff are going to be looking elsewhere for a guaranteed job.

"I know the new North Yorkshire Council isn't going to get rid of people just like that, but everybody is looking for job security."

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Monday's meeting heard complaints over areas including street cleaning and planning as committee members questioned how staff would keep services running until the council is abolished.

This follows the end of a recruitment freeze last August when the council restarted hiring after more than a year of trying to keep costs down during the pandemic.

Covid has been named as a reason for the proposed 1.99% tax rise, as well as years of government cuts which have seen the council's grant allocations reduced by £8.2m since 2010.

If approved next month, the tax rise will equate to an extra £5 for the average Band D property which will pay £255.92 a year to the council.

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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.

Parish councils also make up a small proportion of bills.

The county council has yet to reveal its budget proposals, while the new North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Zoe Metcalfe has outlined a budget based on a £10 increase for average households.

After rises were agreed last year, average bills in the Harrogate district rose above £2,000 for the first time.

Despite the funding challenges and Covid impacts, Conservative councillor Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council, said major projects and frontline services would remain a priority ahead of the authority being abolished.

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He told Monday's meeting: "This budget is not part of a lull, hiatus or winding down.

"The strategy is to 'bake in' projects and initiatives that we want to see carried forward for the good of residents."

Councillor Cooper, who will stand down after 24 years of service in 2023, added: "We have young and senior talent all around this council and we will want to see those people represented at a very high level on the new authority.

"The proposal for a 1.99% council tax increase is way below the rate of inflation and is possible because of work over many years to reduce our cost base and make the best use of our assets.

"This is a budget that is a record of success that we are able to take forward into what is the final full year of Harrogate Borough Council."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter