Council tax to rise in Hertfordshire after a year described as 'extraordinary'

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Councillors approved the budget yesterday

Council tax will rise in Hertfordshire by £56 on average for a band D house after a total increase of 3.99 per cent was agreed following a year described as “extraordinary”.

Councillors approved the budget for 2021/22 yesterday (February 23), which includes an increase of two per cent for the adult social care precept and an additional 1.99% for general council tax. This equates to an extra £1.08 a week for average band D households.

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The county council decided not to take up the option of increasing the adult social care precept to three per cent this year and will instead collect the remaining one per cent next year in 2022/23.

Council tax to rise in Hertfordshire after a year described as 'extraordinary'Council tax to rise in Hertfordshire after a year described as 'extraordinary'
Council tax to rise in Hertfordshire after a year described as 'extraordinary'

The adult social care precept funding will be used to help provide support for the vulnerable and for COVID-19 recovery.

Amendments to the budget were unsuccessfully proposed by the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups.

Councillor Ralph Sangster, cabinet member for resources and performance, addressing the council, said: “The fact that we are holding this year’s budget debate in virtual reality, is a recognition of the changes we have all had to accommodate in a year, I truly believe, can be described as extraordinary.”

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He went on to say: “The nation has learned a lot about itself over this last year and so as a council have we. In response to this pandemic, the council has re-positioned existing services, established new ones and reinforced and supported external service providers.

“Our work force has had to adapt to new working environments, absorb new technologies and rethink its interaction with colleagues, clients and residents. And with peoples’ lives at risk, we did it at breakneck speed in an environment not previously experienced in peace time.”

Cllr Sangster told the meeting that the full socio-economic consequences of the Covid virus are impossible to anticipate.

He said: “We remain however, in a good place. We have all the building blocks in place ready to ensure that Hertfordshire’s economy sling shots out of the ravages of this pandemic and delivers new jobs, new growth, new opportunities, new innovation, but most importantly, new hope for our residents.”

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The meeting heard how the council tax base is expected to shrink by 0.6 per cent in the coming year as residents who find themselves in financial difficulty seek relief.

The council tax revenue in 2021/22 is projected to fall by £8.8m, a combination of the reduced tax base and shortfalls in the tax receipts for the current financial year.

Cllr Sangster said the first priority of the budget has been to increase resources for frontline delivery services such as domestic abuse, children in care and the voluntary sector.

An £11.5 fund for pandemic related and systemic inequalities in service provision and will include education, homelessness, employment, gender and ethnicity, social isolation and mental health, domestic abuse, public health, poverty and hunger.

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The budget includes doubling funding for the council’s environment team and a £10m fund to support the overall sustainability programme. A further £2m was allocated to drive forward an action plan for bids for national environmental programmes.

There will be new funding to support active travel and then set up a a £10m fund to manage the impact of climate change on the county’s highways.

And a £1m fund will be allocated to maintain the county’s rights of way tracks and footpaths to make sure they remain open to residents who have enjoyed using them during lockdown.

Commending the budget to members, cllr Sangster, added: “Although we have faced some dark moments over the past year, the residents of Hertfordshire have been supported throughout by a council which puts its responsibilities to protect their interests front and centre.”

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Paul Zukowskyj, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “Our budget amendment looks to make our county fairer, greener and healthier, produce a better Hertfordshire – a change that’s desperately needed after a year like no other.

“Our amendment’s ambitious, forward looking, pushes to change the fundamental funding of capital repayments from revenue by levering the assets that the council has on its books.

“We need to change how we do things. The old ways of working are behind us and we need to be visionary and ambitious for our county and its citizens.”

The proposed Liberal Democrat amendment included funding for: free school meals, flooding issues, mental health support in schools, tackling inequality, more on street electric vehicle charging points, urban and highway tree planting and cycle routes to join up towns

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Sharon Taylor, Labour spokesperson for Resources and Performance, said: “We want to see a prosperous, caring and socially just county for all our residents.

“A county actively engaging with all its citizens so they are able to fully participate in decision making. A county focused on community wealth building to ensure more of our residents benefit from the public funds spent here.

“And a fairer and more equal community that builds on the foundations of the community spirit that have been laid during these last 12 months.

“Our budget amendment takes some of the key priorities of Hertfordshire people to demonstrate that only a full and complete budget review after May will tackle the long term issues we all face.

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"Our first package of measures is aimed at tackling the increasing inequalities that have been highlighted by Covid. ”

The Labour proposed amendment included funding for: a community wealth fund, digital provision in schools, wider provision of free school meals, school advisers and mental health councillors for schools, cycleways and footways and climate change initiatives.

Councillor Nigel Bell, deputy leader of the Labour group, addressed the council in support of the amendment proposed by cllr Taylor. He said: “Our alternative amendment takes into account our concerns for the most vulnerable members of our county starting off with our responsibility as corporate parents for our children in care.

“We once again have included the council tax discount for our care leavers . We also want to make family centres as they properly were under the Labour introduced children's centres, the first point of contact for our young parents and carers to ensure early help for our young families and their children.

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“Again on children’s wellbeing and education we feel it vital to include CAMHS and mental health counsellors as we have been made aware of the issues arising from the year long lockdown as well as the waiting list issues on CAMHS even before the lockdown.

“Remembering how many of our residents and districts, such as Stevenage and Hertsmere, stepped up to the plate on free school meals and followed the example of Marcus Rashford we have included the funding to help towards alleviating food poverty and holiday hunger.

“Again, as councillor Sharon Taylor said, finding more money for our ‘Money Advice Unit’ is so important as we help families out of the pandemic with clear and practical advice online and over the phone.

“Others will mention other measures but this is a Labour alternative budget taking account the severe effects of Covid 19 and being realistic about the present economic circumstances the country and county are in.”

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