MPs clash on cuts as council tax bill frozen for fourth year in North-East Lincolnshire
PLANS to freeze council tax in North East Lincolnshire for a fourth successive year have been welcomed by the area's two MPs.
As reported in yesterday's Grimsby Telegraph, the council will receive a special grant from central government to partially cover the cost of abandoning its planned three per cent increase in 2013-14.
Austin Mitchell and Martin Vickers say the announcement is good news for hard-pressed householders feeling the pinch in these times of austerity.
But the revelation that NELC may have to find a further £7-million in savings – on top of the £43-million planned up to 2014-15 – due to ongoing public sector cuts, has provoked strongly differing views from our elected representatives in Westminster.
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While Conservative Mr Vickers said the cuts would force the council to focus on delivering key frontline services, Labour's Mr Mitchell said they put the authority in an "impossible position".
Cleethorpes MP Mr Vickers said: "Clearly this is a very challenging target for the council and it is going to have to concentrate on delivering the frontline services and ensure that every penny counts.
"What people want from their local authorities is to have their streets cleaned, their bins emptied, good street lighting. Too much of what local authorities have done in recent years has drifted away from those basic frontline services. I do not dismiss the challenge that the council is facing, but they are now having to focus on the priorities, which is good."
Mr Vickers added that he was encouraged by the reassurances given by council chief executive Tony Hunter that the authority's planned and phased approach had enabled it to plan long-term and avoid being forced into knee-jerk decisions.
But Great Grimsby MP Mr Mitchell said: "The council is being put in an impossible position by central government cuts. Councils are facing a 26 per cent cut in their grant from central government by 2015, which is bigger than the cuts being imposed on any central government department.
"The local authority in North East Lincolnshire, which has handled its finances well in my view, is going to be forced to make cuts on a scale which will have fundamental and potentially disastrous effects on local life."
Mr Mitchell also echoed the concerns of council bosses when he said government policy was making forward planning for local authorities almost impossible.
Council leader Chris Shaw said a proposal to allow local authorities to keep 50 per cent of local business rates above a certain threshold instead of pooling them into a central government fund would carry a significant financial risk.
He added that changes to the New Homes Bonus Scheme – under which money will be given to local authorities on account of how many new houses are built – would add to the uncertainty.
Although finance chiefs are predicting a £7-million shortfall in funding by 2015-16, they say this deficit could fluctuate between £1-million and £18-million.
Mr Mitchell said the business rates proposal was "unfair" because it favoured prosperous areas in the south where more development was taking place.
However, Mr Vickers said it would encourage councils to be "more assertive" in encouraging new businesses to their area.
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