Homeowners face council tax hike

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Householders in Norfolk face an inflation-busting 4.75pc rise in council tax as policymakers grapple with keeping bills down while protecting frontline public services.


Householders in Norfolk face an inflation-busting 4.75pc rise in council tax as policymakers grapple with keeping bills down while protecting frontline public services.

The county council's ruling cabinet yesterday recommended the increase - slightly lower than last year's rise - which also included £1.7m boosts each for services for the elderly and children, plus road repairs.

Yet as homeowners face an income squeeze with higher mortgage bills and utility costs, opposition leaders said the budget would hit the county's most vulnerable citizens - particularly pensioners - in the pocket.

But council leader Shaun Murphy said the aim was to balance an “affordable, fair and reasonable” tax rise with protecting key services.

There was also an extra £31,000 to help fund free museum trips for school parties.

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County Hall department chiefs have also been told to find savings of just over £14m.

Sixty per cent of the savings will come from efficiencies, including planned job losses.

But about £8.5m will need to be found from cost cuts or increased charges, including plans to raise charges for meals on wheels and transport costs for post 16 students.

The rise means those living in a band D property will see the county council's share of their bills rise by £47.70 a year to £1,052.10, while band B bills will rise to £808.30.

The overall tax bill will be even higher, once the police authority, district and parish councils levy their share.

Mr Murphy blamed a poor funding deal from government, and accused ministers of a “sleight of hand” which had left the authority with a £21m shortfall.

“We've worked hard since last March to get this budget right,” he said. “At the same time we want to deliver savings and improve services - I'm passionate about that.

“I am very pleased that despite the inflationary pressures upon us and a continued short-changing by the government of what should, rightfully be ours, we are able to recommend a council tax increase for the coming year which is a little lower than last year. We must continue to pressure government to remedy matters in our grant settlements.”

While all departments had been told to budget for a 4pc rise, extra cash had been found to reward the two big spending children's and adult social services department as well as transportation, which had all seen improved audit commission ratings in the last 12-months.

That extra £4.1m would help reduce the number of staff vacancies in children's services and fund residential and home care support for pensioners and pay for highways maintenance schemes.

“I make no apology for presenting a set of recommendations that accord greatest budget protection and investment to adult social services, children's services and essential highways maintenance through specific targeting of resources,” Mr Murphy added. “This is critically important in our county and relates to our council plan priorities.

“We have a high proportion of people over the age of 85, many vulnerable young people, and many thousands of miles of roads and footways to maintain.”

Labour leader Irene Macdonald said the rise would hit pensioners and the authority was setting one of the highest increases in the country.

“My first concern is that pensioners aren't going to welcome an above inflation rise,” she said. “I'm disappointed because the government provided an extra 8pc in revenue support grant for Norfolk and 5.5pc for schools.

“Norfolk has done better this year and we know that the average council tax rise is heading towards 3.5pc which means this is likely to be one of the highest in the country.”

Liberal Democrat group deputy leader Paul Morse said the Tories needed to find smarter ways of working and he was disappointed there was little mention of tackling climate change in the proposals.

Councillors will consider the budget at a full council meeting on February 19.