West Norfolk Council defends tax record after ‘75 per cent’ rise claim

Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Councillors ENGANL00120130214162648
Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Councillors ENGANL00120130214162648
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Council tax bills in West Norfolk have risen by more than 75 per cent in real terms over the last 20 years, new figures have suggested.

The claim has been made in figures published by the Taxpayers’ Alliance, who have urged authorities not to increase the burden on ratepayers.

But, as work on its budget for the next financial year continues, borough council chiefs have defended their record, insisting their bills are among the lowest in the country.

However, they have warned they will have to look at both tax bills and the other fees it charges for services.

The study has examined the bills levied by hundreds of local authorities in England and Wales since 1996.

It says that the council tax bill for an average band D property in West Norfolk has gone up from £587.47 in 1995-96 to £1,516.09 now, a 77.5 per cent increase in real terms.

Although around three-quarters of that total, £1,145, is levied by Norfolk County Council, the Alliance claims that the borough council’s portion has also risen from around £66 two decades ago to £122 now.

But that figure is just over half of the £239 residents pay towards services provided by Norwich City Council, which is the highest in the county.

The figure is also lower than the equivalent one for every other district in Norfolk, except Breckland, whose portion of a band D bill is around £70.

And the borough says it is only responsible for around £111, or 7.4 per cent, of the total bill.

Leader Nick Daubney said the authority’s share of the tax, which has been frozen for several years, had only risen by just over three per cent in the last decade, while prices have gone up by 10 times as much over the same period.

He said: “We have a strong track record of managing our finances and, compared to other shire districts and to the county and police, any increases have been minimal.”

With local authorities set to finalise their budgets over the next few weeks, the alliance has urged officials to find other ways of managing their finances than raising taxes.

Its chief executive, Jonathan Isaby, said: “Council Tax is a huge burden on hard-pressed families and rates have continued to climb for decades as local authorities massively overspent.

“Local authorities must live within taxpayers’ means by bringing down spending, selling assets or using reserves, not by hiking Council Tax.”

Mr Daubney said the borough council had managed to balance the need for continued investment in projects like the bus station refurbishment and the renovations of the Tuesday and Saturday Market Places with the need to make savings.

He insisted the authority has already done a great deal to reduce its spending and had absorbed inflationary costs rather than pass them on to taxpayers.

But he admitted the end of central government grants to councils which freeze their council tax charges, which were previously offered by the coalition government, may have an impact on residents’ bills this year.

He said: “The government is now expecting councils to raise income through local tax.

“Councils whose council tax falls within the bottom 25 per cent across the country, and this includes West Norfolk, can raise their council tax by £5 without the need for a referendum.

“Other councils can increase their tax by up to 1.9 per cent without a referendum.

“As we head into our budget setting process it is clearly something we will need to look at along with the fees and charges we levy for various services.

“It is too soon to say what the outcome of the budget process will be, but we will do all we can to keep our spending within our means and to achieve best value on our assets and investments.”

The borough council’s budget for the 2016-17 financial year is due to be considered by its ruling cabinet on February 2.

It will then go before the full council in late February, just days after the county council sets its budget.