Sheringham Town Council ‘dismayed’ by district council’s decision to freeze council tax

Sheringham town councillor Peter Cox, bottom right, is dismayed at North Norfolk District Council's

Sheringham town councillor Peter Cox, bottom right, is dismayed at North Norfolk District Council's decision to freeze council tax. Also pictured is the district council's leader Tom FitzPatrick, middle, and deputy leader Judy Oliver, bottom left. Pictures: NNDC - Credit: NNDC

North Norfolk District Council has been accused of 'gross negligence' after voting to freeze council tax for a seventh successive year.

Sheringham Town Council has agreed to write to the local authority to express its dismay at the decision which it fears could put public services at risk.

Members heard that had the district council increased its share of the council tax charge by one per cent every year over the last seven years it could have raised an extra £1 million to invest in the area.

With funding from national government being slashed, North Norfolk District Council previously revealed it needs to find a further £1.3 million over the next three years on top of the £3 million savings already identified.

Addressing the town council at its meeting in the town hall on Tuesday night, councillor Peter Cox said: 'People are annoyed at having to complain about the cuts in services.

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'If the district council is in any financial plight it is partly of their own making. To freeze council tax for two years may be prudent but to freeze it for eight years is gross negligence and financial mismanagement.

'They might think they have saved residents some money but they are actually doing them a disservice. A lot of people are willing to take a little increase if it means maintaining essential services and not having to cut and cut and cut.'

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Fellow town councillor Peter Burns accused councillor Cox of making a political statement which he said had no place on the town council. He claimed the district council's decision to freeze its share of the council tax was their business and Sheringham Town Council should concentrate on its own affairs.

Councillor Burns, who was supported by councillor Madeleine Ashcroft, said: 'We must run our business within the parameters we have with the cost and finance we've got.'

But, with the town council taking over responsibility for areas previously managed by the district, councillor Cox argued they were making it their business.

He claimed the town council was picking up the pieces of the local authority's financial decisions to 'make sure the town is not deprived as other areas'.

Councillor Cox said: 'How on Earth someone can consider what I said was political is quite twisted.' And councillor Peter Farley added: 'It's not a political statement, it's a practical statement.'

Councillor Cox proposed Sheringham Town Council write to the district council to express its 'dismay' at the local authority's decision to continue to freeze its share of the council tax when essential services required funding. And members voted by six to five in support of the motion.

Mayor David Gooch, who backed the vote, described the debate as an 'extremely emotive issue'. But he revealed he based his decision on public opinion.

Councillors Judy Oliver, Richard Shepherd and Doug Smith, who represent Sheringham on the district council, watched the debate from the public benches but did not comment.

The district council agreed to freeze its share of the council tax - £138.87 for a Band D property - for a seventh successive year at its budget meeting last month.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, the local authority's leader Tom FitzPatrick said: 'We're really proud (to be able to freeze council tax for a seventh successive year) and we haven't reduced services, we've just been more and more efficient and done things in different ways.

'We're not cash-strapped, we're just being very prudent and looking to the future so that we can avoid putting up council tax as much as possible because we know, particularly with the age profile in this district, that every penny counts.'

The district council had previously proposed selling off some of its assets in a bid to plug the funding gap. But the local authority, which revealed it provides £2 million worth of discretionary services, has since been forced to delay a decision following public opposition.

Councillor Oliver, who is also the district council's deputy leader, speaking earlier, added: 'The bottom line is we've got a projected deficit of £1.3 million in three to four years time and we have to meet that either by making some money through our asset programme, raising council tax or cutting services. What we're trying to do is avoid cutting services and avoid increasing council tax by 25 per cent, which for many people would be a very significant rise.'

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