Tax rises and job cuts on cards at Harrogate council

Harrogate Borough Council.
Harrogate Borough Council.
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A year-on-year tax hike of 2.99 per cent and a series of operational reviews which will likely see the loss of council jobs are some of the key items in Harrogate's upcoming budgets.

Councillors debated the draft 2019/20 budget and indicative 2020/21 budget at a meeting of the overview and scrutiny commission on Monday, January 14.

Among the key points in the drafts are plans to hike the council tax by 2.99 per cent over the following two financial years, as well as a series of organisational reviews announced into parks and environmental services aimed at reducing expenditure by at least £511k over the next two financial years.

Speaking following the meeting, cabinet member for resources, enterprise and economic development Councillor Graham Swift said the council tax rise would see the average household pay an extra £6.99 a year.

Coun Swift said the rises would be lower than other North Yorkshire authorities because Harrogate doesn't charge an additional social care supplement.

The council increased their tax rate by 2.18 per cent last year.

A 2.99 per cent hike is the highest that can be imposed on a council without going to a referendum.

The tax hike would see the yearly rate for an average household in Harrogate increase from £233.93 to £240.92.

Also discussed at the overview and scrutiny meeting was the operational reviews into the council's parks and environmental services.
Cabinet papers show a proposal to reduce expenditure in the sector by £268k in 2019/20 and £243k in 2020/21.

Among the proposals are waste and street cleansing operational reviews, with budget documents showing the reviews may result in potential redundancies.

The waste review is predicted to produce £53,710 of savings in 2019/20, and £14,140 of savings in 2020/21.

The drop in cost budgets on the cutting of two vehicles and crews.

The street cleansing review is slated to produce savings of £85,020 over the two financial years, with savings predicted to come from reduced staffing and cost cutting.

Other major sources of savings are proposed to come from a parks and open spaces operational review in 2020/21 aimed at saving £168k.

Those funds are proposed to come from a potential reduction in bedding displays and frequency of grass cutting around the district, with the savings to come from a drop in staff and vehicle use as outlined in a consultancy report by Edge Public Solutions.

Council leader Coun Richard Cooper clarified that the reduction in bedding displays was proposed to be less than one per cent of the district's flower beds. Some of them would be replaced with low-maintenance naturalistic beds.

Coun Swift conceded that "jobs will go" in the "substantial" reviews, but that the move was necessary to bring that service sector into line with others that had already undergone reviews.

Results of the reviews will be discussed at upcoming overview and scrutiny committees.

Coun Swift added that overall the budget showed the council was in good shape compared to other authorities.
Significant investment into the commercialisation of council activities, such as the formation of the council's own housing company, would help increase revenue for the authority, while a reduction of £8.8m in expenditure in the past eight years showed council was heading in the right direction.