Council tax freeze

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WEARSIDERS have been given a boost to household budgets after city leaders proposed a council tax freeze.

Sunderland City Council’s ruling cabinet has moved to accept Government cash for keeping council tax for 2012/13 at the same level as last year.

The proposals must be rubber-stamped at a meeting of all councillors next month.

The freeze comes as the council faces millions of pounds in grant cuts as part of the Government’s deficit reduction scheme.

Council leader Paul Watson praised officers for what he called financial “alchemy,” in delivering investments at the same time as freezing council tax.

“This is what the whole world expects to see from Sunderland now under the Sunderland Way of Working – delivering more for less.

“This is once again a very difficult budget.

“The council is faced with significant grant reductions and cost pressures resulting in a savings requirement of £28million for 2012/13.

“This comes on top of almost £58million of reductions required in 2011/12.”

The council has made millions of pounds in savings to come up with the cuts, including £15million from its three-year “directorate improvement plans,” and £8million by reviewing areas such as shared services and ICT. A total of £3million was saved by reviewing contingencies and money spent by third parties.

Cabinet secretary Councillor Mel Speding said: “The city council is proposing a council tax freeze.

“This course of action clearly recognises the economic climate and the challenges facing the residents of the city. This council will continue to do everything it can to try to mitigate the impact of these external challenges.”

The proposed freeze means Sunderland’s council tax is again likely to be the lowest in Tyne and Wear.

Sunderland Conservatives leader Robert Oliver, who had been pressing for a tax freeze, said: “I am pleased that the cabinet has decided to back the council tax freeze, which I think will benefit taxpayers in Sunderland.”

He added: “I think what we’re seeing is the city council doing what the Government wants, which is reducing waste and making efficiencies so they can spend on front-line services. That’s happening.”

The final decision on the council’s budget and council tax will be decided on March 7.

Council tax in Sunderland helps pay for about 800 different services, from refuse collection and recycling to libraries and leisure facilities.

Most of the money used to fund council services comes from the Government.

Last year, grants of more than £500million helped to fund the council’s budget, in addition to income from services such as licensing and planning.

Most properties in Sunderland fall into the lowest council tax bands, A and B.

The tax in Sunderland last year raised approximately £95million – 12 per cent of the council’s total budget.

The council’s total estimated expenditure for 2012/13 is £729million, which includes the cost or running schools and adult and child care services – the two most expensive areas.

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