North Yorkshire County Council faces ‘toughest council tax decision ever’

County Hall, Northallerton.

North Yorkshire County Council, which is facing a £75m shortfall of funding over the next three years, is facing its “toughest decision ever” over how much council tax to demand from residents in the coming year.

The authority’s leaders said while the authority could increase council tax by up to 4.99 per cent – a rise of more than £90 for the average household – to help pay for key services for vulnerable people they remained mindful of the volume of residents facing financial hardship due to the pandemic.

For average band D properties last year, the council levied £1,244 of basic council tax, as well as a social care charge of £120, representing some 73 per cent of the average £1,860 council tax bill.

The remainder of residents bills’ was split between district and borough councils, which received at least £114 per average household, parish and town councils an average of £41, while £266 and £73 respectively went towards the county’s police and fire services.

Following numerous Government funding announcements and ongoing Covid-related costs, finance bosses at the authority are continuing to calculate whether it should raise general council tax by up to 1.99 per cent and if it should make an additional three per cent charge for its under-funded social care service.

The recommendation, expected to be made within three weeks, will be presented to the authority’s 72 elected members for a decision in February.

The authority’s executive member for finance, Councillor Gareth Dadd, said: “It’s a very difficult balance, because whilst we know the county council needs that funding to run critical services for vulnerable people, we know that to take money out of the North Yorkshire economy at this critical time is not the best situation to be in.

“Never has that dilemma between funding critical services and raiding the coffers of the economy of North Yorkshire been more acute.”

The council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les added: “There’s no doubt people’s incomes have been hit severely this year, but there’s also no doubt our services are absolutely vital for some people this year. So we have got to get that balance right between providing services and not raising too much council tax.”

He said the council would have to dip further into its reserves as the funding made available by the Government for Coronavirus expenses did not fully cover the authority’s £80m Covid outgoings, but added the Government had “stood shoulder to shoulder” with the county council through the pandemic.

The authority’s leaders have previously highlighted they feel residents in the county pay too much council tax, particularly in comparison to London residents, whose services can be funded through parking charges.

Leader of the council’s Independent group Councillor Stuart Parsons said the authority had not fought strongly enough to get the government to reimburse all its Covid-related spending and loss of income as a result of the pandemic.

He said it was difficult to justify any increase in council tax unless the authority could demonstrate it had pressed the Government to make good on its promise to reimburse local authorities for all their pandemic costs.

Cllr Parsons said: “A Conservative county council will not seriously challenge a Conservative government. Had it been a Labour government you can imagine them jumping up and down on the parapets screaming fraud, fraud, fraud.

“I understand why they feel they are in a dilemma, but the true dilemma is that they simply have to write to Rishi Sunak saying you promised you would reimburse us – do so. If they are not prepared to do that, then they can’t take it out on the taxpayers of North Yorkshire.”