Maximum council tax rise agreed as part of first budget for new West Northamptonshire Council
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The first budget for the new West Northamptonshire Council with a maximum council tax rise was approved during a meeting last night (Tuesday, February 23).
The increase of 4.99 per cent - the highest possible without a referendum - was defended by the ruling Conservatives as being essential to the council's income and 'less than a flat white from Costa'.
The £712 million budget also reduces the minimum council tax contribution for lower-paid households and includes two funds to help residents in financial hardship and care leavers pay their council tax.
Opposition councillors' attempts to reduce the rise by one per cent, lower their allowances and add a £1 million climate change fund were rejected.
Shadow council leader Ian McCord said: "This is our first budget, it is fair and progressive, a budget supporting the low-paid, the vulnerable and the care leaver.
"This is a budget that gives our new council a firm foundation on which to build success, a budget that gives a bright future for all."
West Northamptonshire Council will come into existence as a unitary authority on April 1, replacing the Northamptonshire county, Northampton borough and Daventry and South Northamptonshire district councils
This will mean services previously provided by four different councils will come together under a new single local authority - the fifth-largest unitary in England.
North Northamptonshire Council will do the same for the other half of the county, incorporating Wellingborough, Corby, Kettering boroughs and East Northamptonshire district.
Cllr Rebecca Breese, shadow portfolio holder for finance, said a 'monumental' amount of work has gone into creating its first budget with lots of unknowns and challenges to consider.
Around £12.5 million has been allocated to handle any future pressures from the coronavirus pandemic as well as £5 million for other contingencies and £95 million in reserves.
"However it is a budget which I'm pleased to report is balanced, delivers continued transformation, maintains services and contains proposals to enhance support to our most vulnerable residents," she said.
The 4.99 per cent council tax rise comprises 1.99 per cent of core tax and a ring-fenced three per cent adult social care precept.
The hike would mean an average band D house would pay £1,566.39, or an increase of £74.45 for the year or £1.43 per week.
Cllr Breese said around £215 million is generated from council tax, which makes up around two-thirds of the council's income, and it is important to take advantage of the maximum increase.
"I'm aware that this involves a council tax increase on our residents and for a band D property this is an average increase of £1.43 a week and for a band H, £2.86," she said.
"But this is less than a flat white from Costa. While I accept this may be a marginal burden to many households, there are households to whom this will be an additional pressure."
Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors criticised the increase saying it would mean families already struggling with the effects of the pandemic have to pay more with no benefits.
Labour group leader Danielle Stone said: "This is a hugely complex budget, it involved a huge amount of effort but I am really, really critical of it.
"You cannot go to the public asking for more money for nothing - what are they going to be getting from it?"
The Lib Dems proposed an amendment to reduce the increase to 3.99 per cent - at a cost of £2 million in revenue - so taxpayers were not 'punished' for the previous councils' failings.
The amendment also included a £1 million fund to be created from reserves and spent on initiatives addressing the climate emergency.
But this was voted down by the Conservatives with Cllr McCord describing it as 'virtue-signalling' and fellow Tory, Adam Brown, saying it was 'opposition for opposition's sake'.
Labour's amendment to lower councillors' basic allowance from £13,750 to £10,000 and spend the savings on a children's play project was also denied.
Councillor Zoe Smith said she was 'appalled' by the sum and Lib Dem councillor Sally Beardsworth said it would send a positive message to residents.
However, Cllr Breese and fellow Conservative Sam Rumens said the allowance means lower-paid residents are more able to become a councillor.