Council snubs Government with tax rise

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A REBEL Yorkshire council has chosen to defy the Government and push ahead with a tax rise as its leader warned it would be “irresponsible” to delay cuts amid the biggest challenges the authority has faced in a generation.

York Council announced yesterday it will instigate a 2.9 per cent increase in its share of the council tax bill, becoming the latest local authority in the region to turn down the offer of a one-off grant from Westminster aimed at preventing any rises.

Local Government Minister Bob Neill branded the move as an “incredibly inconsiderate decision” and claimed the one-year grant of nearly £2m for York would have given an annual saving to the city’s residents of as much as £68.

He added: “York ought to put their residents first by focusing on tackling waste and duplication to maintain services and by voting against a punitive tax rise. If they don’t, their electorate will simply show their displeasure at the ballot box.”

York Council’s announcement follows in the wake of proposed increases by councils for both Richmondshire and Scarborough, and prompted condemnation from the campaign group, The Taxpayers’ Alliance, which warned it is considering protests in the North Yorkshire city.

The open defiance is the latest embarrassment for the Government after it emerged Ministers were unable to name a single authority that had committed to a flagship weekly bin collection scheme and all but one Yorkshire authority ruled themselves out.

Senior councillors in York have taken an unprecedented step in the city by drafting a blueprint for the next two financial years instead of the normal 12-month plan. It will involve cuts totalling £19.7m over the 24-month period on annual operating costs of about £124m.

Up to 100 job losses will be lost in 2012/13 with a similar number due to be axed during 2013/14 – on top of the 170 posts which are going in this financial year.

Council leader James Alexander stressed most would be achieved through voluntary redundancies, although he admitted it was likely there would have to be some compulsory job losses.

He said: “It is an extremely difficult budget and there are a lot of things that are going to be unpopular, but this budget gives us stability and the council will be a more healthy organisation at the end of it. It makes no political sense to delay the pain until 12 months down the road, and it would be irresponsible for us to do this.”

The 2.9 per cent increase in the council’s share of the tax bill will mean the cost of a Band D property would rise by 61p a week to a total of £1,122.48 per year. Richmondshire District Council is recommending a three per cent increase in its share of the council tax bill, while Scarborough Borough Council is considering a three per cent rise.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance has already announced a day of action in Richmond on February 18, and campaign manager, Robert Oxley, confirmed a similar protest could be held in York.

“Town Hall tyrants shouldn’t choose to hike taxes over searching for savings when setting council budgets,” he said. “This short-sighted decision isn’t in the interests of taxpayers, we will campaign to ensure their views are communicated to council leaders loud and clear.”

York Council’s budget still needs to be ratified by full council on February 23, but it could see parking charges increase, grants cut for the York Museums Trust and York Theatre Royal and reductions in services including street cleaning. However, a new Economic Infrastructure Fund is due to be created to plough £28.5m over a five-year period to promote enterprise. There will also be annual increase of £1.5m for adult social care and £500,000 for children’s social care to protect the vulnerable.