Tory council set to defy coalition with a tax rise

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A CONSERVATIVE-RUN Yorkshire council is set to defy coalition calls to freeze council tax bills with plans for a two per cent increase in 2014.

North Yorkshire County Council will vote in the new year on plans for the rise, its first in four years.

The Government has repeatedly offered councils extra cash, widely known as the ‘freeze grant’, in return for not increasing council tax bills.

This year seven councils in Yorkshire rejected the grant to put up bills and more are expected to follow suit in 2014, although so far Conservative-led authorities in the region have stuck with the Government.

North Yorkshire County Council leader John Weighell has now broken ranks, arguing the authority cannot afford to put off rises any longer.

He said: “We are on track to save £94m over the four years ending in March 2015, and we estimate we already have to find a further £77m over the next four years. This represents a cut in our spending power of more than a third in eight years.

“In the four years ending March 2015, frontline services have been protected as much as possible, with just under two-thirds of our savings coming from non-frontline budgets.

“But at the same time as it has cut back on its budgets, the council has seen a significant rise in demand for its services. For example, there has been a 75 per cent increase in child protection cases, and at the other end of the age range, more than a quarter of the adult population of North Yorkshire is over the age of 65.

“Every year, the population of older people increases, and with it the demand for the care and support which the council provides.”

The Government has repeatedly held up its efforts to hold down council tax bills as an example of how it is helping families cope with the rising cost of living.

Under Government rules, councils which choose to raise taxes must limit the increase to two 
per cent or hold a local referendum.

This year Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Wakefield, Hull, Richmondshire and York raised their taxes.

Bradford is already consulting on proposals to raise council tax by 1.6 per cent in each of the next two years and others are expected to follow suit.

Leeds and Sheffield councils, who have both previously frozen council taxes, have already warned of fresh rounds of savings in 2014 pushing them closer to increasing bills.

While many council leaders were happy to freeze bills in the short term, they have become increasingly concerned that there is no end in sight to the savings they are being asked to make.

There is concern in many town halls about becoming reliant on grant money from central government that could be withdrawn, spurring the decision to start raising revenue again locally.

Shadow Local Government Secretary Hilary Benn, the MP for Leeds Central, said: “Given the cost-of-living crisis facing many families, I’m sure that councils will do their best to keep council tax down but they will find it increasingly difficult to maintain services that the public rely on in the face of further significant cuts in Government funding.”

james.reed@ypn.co.uk