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Budget row as North Norfolk council tax freeze approved

A district council has frozen its share of tax revenues, despite accusations that its leadership has no plan to tackle future financial pressures.

The authority in North Norfolk, which covers Fakenham, is the only one in the county which is not proposing to increase its charge next year, following a late change to its budget plans.

The measures put forward by the Liberal Democrat-controlled council were approved, with no-one voting against them, at a meeting last night.

Council tax bill. (44500070)
Council tax bill. (44500070)

But members of the main opposition Conservative group, which abstained on the main budget vote, claimed there had been a “complete dereliction of duty” by the administration.

Its leader, Christopher Cushing, claimed the Liberal Democrats were waiting for central government bailouts to address anticipated shortfalls of more than £2 million.

Documents submitted to the meeting showed the deficits are forecast for each of the three years from 2022-23.

And Mr Cushing said: “This is a do nothing budget from a good for nothing administration.”

Concerns were also raised that the plan to freeze council tax was first announced in a press statement a few days prior to Wednesday night’s meeting.

Conservative Nigel Dixon, who chairs the authority’s scrutiny committee, pointed out that the freeze proposal had not been put to his colleagues when they discussed the budget last month.

And Tom FitzPatrick suggested the Liberal Democrats had their minds on May’s local elections rather than proper management of the district’s finances.

He said: “I find it very difficult to accept there is a tight rein on the finances.

It’s been done for cynical electoral advantage.”

But deputy leader Eric Seward contrasted their approach to that of Conservative-run councils elsewhere in Norfolk, which are all set to implement tax increases.

He said: “This council should be doing what it can not to increase the financial burdens residents are facing.”

He argued the forecast budget shortfalls were due to anticipated reductions in central government funding.

And he claimed that the administration had not been able to propose a freeze at the January scrutiny meeting as full information about the council’s financial position was not available at that stage.

The administration’s approach was also supported by Independent group leader John Rest, who thanked them for consulting on the measures.

Both the Breckland and West Norfolk councils are due to finalise their budgets for the 2021-22 financial year later today. Each authority is proposing to increase its share of council tax.

On Monday, Norfolk County Council voted to implement an increase of almost four per cent in its share of council tax, adding around £56 to the annual bill for residents living in average band D homes.

And, earlier this month, the county’s police and crime panel endorsed plans by the outgoing commissioner, Lorne Green, to increase the police’s precept by just under £15 next year for a band D property.

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