Councillors vote to increase council tax after lengthy debate

NEW council tax rises for County Durham have been approved, but only after more than four hours of debating.

The increase, due to come into effect from April, at the start of the 2021/22 financial year, will see about £50 added to the annual bill for a Band D property.

Bosses at Durham County Council faced opposition criticism for the move at a time when many families are struggling with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the local authority’s leadership could point to having not chosen to take advantage of the full boost allowed by the government, instead opting to spread further increases over future years.

Deputy leader Alan Napier said: “After a decade of austerity which has placed immense pressure on council services, we’re now responding to the challenge of supporting our residents and businesses through this pandemic.

“COVID’s costs are difficult to determine, but I know we will face additional costs and lost income.

“[This is a budget] which includes prudent council tax increases, resisting the Chancellor’s calls to increase council tax by five per cent.”

Cllr Napier was speaking Wednesday’s meeting of the county council, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

The council tax increase includes a 1.99 per cent rise for the core bill, with a further one per cent added to the adult social care precept.

This is just a third of the maximum rise allowed by the government, although rules also allow for this to be phased in over future years.

Additional precepts for police and fire and rescue services will also be added to final bills before they are sent to households.

Spending plans also include provision to continue the council’s’ Local Council Tax Support scheme, which is currently believed to be one of the most generous in the North East.

Figures for November showed grants of up to £300 had been paid to more than 12,600 struggling families, with more expected to be spent supporting household through the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Council opposition groups proposed amendments to spending plans, calling for free parking, cash for school repair and the cancellation of the Durham County News newsletter, among other measures, but were all rejected.

The council tax rise was approved with 62 votes in favour and 35 against.

The Northern Echo | Durham