September 16 2014 Latest news:
Friday, August 29, 2014
People in Norfolk could be hit with higher council tax bills next year, as councillors at cash-strapped County Hall are asked to consider a hike to help plug an estimated £17.5m funding gap in 2015/16.
Councillors are being asked to think seriously about agreeing to the first increase in its share of the council tax since 2010, with the millions that would raise potentially being earmarked specifically for improving services for vulnerable children.
Peter Timmins, interim director of finance at Norfolk County Council, has suggested councillors should consider the increase in next February’s budget because of the pressures the authority is under.
Mr Timmins is forecasting that the council, which sets a budget of some £1.5bn each year, will be £17.5m short of the money it needs in 2015/16,
And councillors are being asked to consider what, to some who were elected saying they would not allow a council tax rise, is unthinkable, after four years of freezing council tax in return for a grant from central government.
The council identified £71m of savings last February, but not all those savings have been achieved. And Mr Timmins has forecast that £209m will need to have been saved within five years.
With inspectors from Ofsted having criticised the authority’s children’s services department, millions has been spent trying to turn that around, yet the number of looked after children has not significantly reduced.
And George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council said the prospect of a hypothecated tax - where the money is channelled to address specific issues such as in children’s services - meant councillors should not reject a council tax rise out of hand.
He said: “Our financial planning is sound and last year the council agreed proposals for a three year rolling budget.
“But the pressures on local government finances increase year by year, with extra pressures in the year ahead because of government cuts and extra duties. “For these reasons we are asking all of our councillors to have an open mind and not close off any options at this stage.
“I recognise that some councillors have been elected on a manifesto promise not to increase council tax, but these are unusual times for all councils and I ask them to consider the idea of a specific tax increase which is dedicated to a particular service for a limited amount of time.” When asked which services those might be, Mr Nobbs said: “Obviously children’s services, which we have worked very hard to turn around, springs to mind, but there may well be others.
“If we can make the case for what the money is needed for, I think the public will be a lot more open to new ideas than some people give them credit for.”
Councillors have been taking part in budget workshops and the report by Mr Timmins will be presented to the council’s policy and resources committee next Friday.
The various council committees are then likely to be asked to make sure all efficiencies they can make have been made and will then be asked to develop further savings proposals for October.
At this stage, the council has not indicated what sort of council tax increase councillors could be asked to consider when the budget is set next February.
• Would you be prepared to pay more council tax to help sort out issues in children’s services? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.