Tax rise plan is ‘prudent in uncertain times’, West Norfolk Council chiefs say

GV of  the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk, King's Court Hq, Chapel Street King's Lynn
GV of the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk, King's Court Hq, Chapel Street King's Lynn
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West Norfolk Council’s plans to raise tax by an average of £4 are a “prudent” response to an uncertain financial climate, senior officials say.

Budget proposals for the forthcoming financial year were backed by the authority’s ruling cabinet last night, before going to the full council later this month.

But, amid officials’ warnings of “significant risks” as the structure of local government funding changes, some members did voice anxieties for the future.

Development portfolio holder Richard Blunt said: “A lot of the risk elements in our budget are totally outside our control.

“We need to ensure we lobby as much as we can through all the different agencies that we need some help.”

Regeneration portfolio holder Alistair Beales said he was “rather living in fear” of the situation the council may face after 2020, when the current system of central government grants is finally due to be scrapped.

And backbencher David Pope said the council should “pull up the drawbridge for the next couple of years” until the financial climate was more certain.

He also criticised what he claimed was a lack of scrutiny of the plans by council panels and opposed the planned tax rise for this year and subsequent years.

He said: “It goes against manifesto pledge not to raise council tax above the rate of inflation.”

But the increase does fall within the limit that the borough can impose without being forced to hold a referendum.

Leader Brian Long said the administration had been forced to change its position by the government’s decision to end grants for councils who froze their tax charges.

He said: “We are looking to build up our reserves over the next couple of years to deal with the difficulties that may be ahead.”

Chief executive Ray Harding added: “We’re asking residents for a contribution of 8p a week over and above what they’re already paying.

“We’ve gone from a level where, when I first started our council tax was on a par with the police and it’s now around half that.

“I don’t think anyone could criticise this administration for being anything other than exceptionally prudent and this budget continues that.”