COUNCILLORS in Scarborough have ditched a demand for a council tax rise and opted to freeze it for a second year instead.
The move comes after pressure from the Government – and was one of a series of surprise decisions made yesterday.
They had been expected to opt for either a 2.5 or a three per cent increase – with the final decision to be made on Friday February 24 by the full council.
But, at a meeting of Scarborough Council’s Cabinet, it was revealed that authorities which did not accept an offer of a freeze grant would face further cuts in government funding.
The U-turn was one of a series of surprise decisions with members going against officer advice on proposed parking charges for Marine Drive – and choosing concrete steps to bolster sea defences at the Spa.
Cllr Tom Fox, the council leader, referred to the freeze grant as the “Pickles’ shilling” – after local government minister Eric Pickles – and said: “A lot of the debate has been around the future for the council and the medium term planning that we’ve got to do.
“Not only are they going to reduce the level of grants to councils they are also looking at reducing the whole baseline of council funding opportunities – it wants to reduce the level of total funding that councils have.”
He added that it was a difficult decision which did not allow the council to plan for the medium term.
Cllr Jane Kenyon, the finance portfolio holder, said the proposal for an increase had widely consulted with the public and the general consensus had been that there was no “appetite for a rise” but the risks of opting for a freeze had been highlighted.
She added: “As an authority we will have to look at the impact and where that will fall. If you think this has been a difficult budget then brace yourself for next year.”
Nicholas Edwards, the council’s head of finance and asset management, said there had been a mixed response to the proposal from the public which had led to a recommendation for the 2.5 per cent rise.
He had previously recommended that the Government grant funding should be declined because it was only for one year and would represent a total loss of income of around £2.2 million over a 10-year period – the council would have to make efficiency savings in future years to claw back the shortfall.
Cllr Bill Chatt also said he did not agree with the “Pickles’ pound” because the council would have to make savings over the next 10 years. He said: “There’s no such thing as a free meal.”
He added that it would have been preferable to impose an increase to protect services which had been hit hard over the past years. He said: “In effect they are going to have us one way or the other. People should be aware that this is going to have an effect on a lot of households in the borough. It is a very bitter pill but I know we are going to have to swallow it.”
The recommendation brings the council in line with North Yorkshire County Council which has recommended a freeze – the final county decision is due to be taken today. North Yorkshire Police Authority has also decided to accept the offer of the council tax freeze grant
Scarborough Council is facing a 33 per cent cut in funding over the next two years – with a reduction in the Government grant of 14.6 per cent.
To ease the strain on household budgets council tax payers are being offered the option of paying their bill in 12 monthly instalments instead of the usual 10 payments.
Scarborough Council acts as the collection agent for council tax in the borough and keeps 14 per cent of the amount collected.
The remainder is divided between other organisations including North Yorkshire County Council which keeps 69 per cent.