Fiery exchanges erupted as Conservative-run North Yorkshire County Council approved levying close to the maximum permitted council tax rise after hearing residents were facing a financial “perfect storm”.
The last full meeting of the authority ahead of elections for a new unitary authority in May saw the authority’s chairman repeatedly intervene in debates to restore “decorum and dignity” to proceedings as councillors accused each other of failing to protect the most needy residents.
Conservative councillors claimed as much of the rise was to cover soaring social care costs, it would be “reckless not to fund our responsibilities”, while opposition members told the meeting the increase would prove impossible to meet for many households.
Proposing a below-inflation council tax rise of 3.99 per cent, which will mean the authority’s bills for the average Band D property increase by £56 to £1,467, its deputy leader and finance boss Councillor Gareth Dadd said the council’s budget aimed to protect services for vulnerable people while leaving “a legacy” for the new authority to inherit.
He told the meeting the increase struck a balance between those key ambitions and protecting taxpayers as “our instinct has always been to maintain a council tax rise as low as practically pragmatically possible.”
Coun Dadd said the authority had “gone some way to reducing the burden on the tax-paying public of North Yorkshire” by not levying the maximum 4.49 per cent council tax precept increase.
Leader of the council’s Independent group Councillor Stuart Parsons said the authority was banking on residents not noticing the council’s precept increase, alongside others being levied by the police and fire services and borough, district and parish councils, due to the government’s £150 council tax rebate for some households.
He said: “What we have to remember is that £150 will disappear in a year. Then there is the cost of living crisis and we do not appear to be making any effort to help people with that.”
Coun Parsons said there was a significant section of society that just missed out on financial help such as free school meals that could not afford the council tax increase.
Independent councillor for Malton Lindsay Burr added with high inflation, wages effectively falling and national insurance increases being introduced at the same time as the council tax hike in April, the authority had a chance to ease pressures on residents.
She said: “Surely there has never been such a justified time to freeze the council tax and listen to all those residents who are pleading with us to try and help them. Average families are now having to use food banks.
“The perfect storm is gathering as we all know. Maybe it is time we stop and help a little bit and not add fuel to the fire.”
Councillor Bryn Griffiths told the meeting was Liberal Democrat group was also opposing the rise as adult social care was an urgent national issue.
Ahead of 53 councillors voting for the increase, three abstaining and three against the rise, Councillor Eric Broadbent said the Labour group “reluctantly” supported the regressive tax increase as “the last thing we want to see is any reduction in critical services”.