Call for council tax freeze

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CITY leaders are under pressure to come up with a council tax freeze ahead of a rates announcement this week.

Ministers have offered Sunderland City Council a provisional £2.38million grant if the authority freezes council tax for 2012/13.

Officers and senior councillors are busy putting together the budget and council tax proposals for the next financial year, with plans due to go before Sunderland’s ruling Labour cabinet on Wednesday.

They must then be rubber-stamped at a full meeting of all councillors.

In the past, Sunderland has prided itself on charging the lowest council tax in the North East – and played its cards close to its chest, only announcing rates at the cabinet meeting where they are tabled.

But Conservatives at a national and local level are calling for Sunderland to freeze council tax to help Wearsiders make ends meet during the gloomy economic times.

Sunderland Conservatives leader Robert Oliver said: “A council tax freeze is on offer from the Government and I would urge the Cabinet to accept it on behalf of the taxpayers of Sunderland who have seen their council tax bills spiral upwards in recent years.

“The money allocated to freeze the council tax can be used to reduce costs at the council which will be of benefit for years to come and make future tax rises less likely.”

He added: “Several councils have been wavering or have declined the freeze and then put up the council tax by slightly less than the 3.5 per cent which would trigger a referendum which we don’t want to see here.”

A number of councils have said they will not freeze council tax, prompting a rebuke from Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

“You all know that hardworking families have enough to contend with,” he said.

“Those who don’t freeze the tax are pouring on the stress and pressure at a time when people could really do without it. They are giving their residents an almighty kick in the teeth.”

Councils who have rejected grants to freeze council tax have stressed that the cash is not on offer again, leading to a bigger long-term funding gap.

The cash offered by the Government to Sunderland City Council is equivalent to a 2.5 per cent increase in council tax from April.

That sum is provisional and will be amended in line with council tax base figures – a technical piece of information worked out by council number-crunchers.

A spokesman for Sunderland City Council confirmed the proposed council tax rates in Sunderland will not be tabled until the cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

At present, most households in Sunderland – those in Band A – pay £895.20 in council tax.

•Council tax bills in County Durham will stay the same for the third year running as Durham County Council continues to seek budget savings.

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