Council tax increases get green light to help ‘protect front line services’
Another year of council tax increases will help protect front line services, council bosses have promised.
Durham County Council’s (DCC) ruling cabinet has recommended a rise of almost 5% in household bills to come into effect from April.
This would add about £70 to the annual charge for a band D property, before other precepts for the police and fire services are added on.
The county council’s budget for 2019/20 also includes plans to plug a gap in funding for children with special needs worth more than £5.5million with the council’s cash reserves.
Speaking at today’s cabinet meeting, council leader Simon Henig claimed previous increases to council tax had allowed the county council to hold enough resources spare for such measures.
He said: “The council is extremely fortunate that we’re able to meet a budget shortfall in children’s services with reserves – which some people would have spent several years ago.
“If we had listened to that then, we would really now be in a crisis. As it is, the cabinet proposals continue to protect front line services and we should be thankful for that.”
Last year, the council asked the government’s permission to ‘top slice’ from its main education grant to cover a shortfall in high needs funding.
This prompted a decision in December to make ends meet with a one-off £4.1million top up from DCC’s General Fund Budget Support Reserve.
This was later upped to £5.6million.
Coun Olwyn Gunn, cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, said: “The pressures we’re facing [in children’s services] are huge.
“In relation to special education needs and disabilities (SEND) and the high needs budget, this council has shown its commitment by adding to that fund to ensure schools are not placed in an even more difficult positions than they already are.”
She added: “This isn’t just about DCC, right across the country children’s services are in this very difficult position and high needs budgets are under pressure.”
The council’s spending plans for 2019/20 amount to more than £400million.
Of this, more than half, about £222million, is expected to be funded by council tax receipts.
The 4.99% planned increase to council tax bills is due to be made up of a 2.99% rise to core council tax and a further 2% adult social care levy.
The council also needs to make cuts worth £39.5million, which would take its total savings since 2011 to £263.3million.
Following the green light from cabinet, the budget is expected to be formally approved by full council when it meets later this month.
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service