Harborough council tax: Tories spring 11th hour budget surprise

East Northants Council has frozen its share of the council tax bill
East Northants Council has frozen its share of the council tax bill

Harborough Council has found extra cash and announced a five per cent reduction in its portion of Council Tax bills for 2015/16.

The surprise announcement was made during a report from finance portfolio holder Cllr Phil King at a full council meeting on Monday night.

Councillors, and in particular the Liberal Democrat opposition, were given a 20-minute adjournment in the middle of the meeting to discuss their reaction to the latest news, contained in a new finance report handed out at the meeting.

“More good news, and a five per cent reduction in the district share of the council tax,” said Cllr King.

Liberal Democrat opposition leader Cllr Phil Knowles said: “This is a desperate, last-minute gimmick which the electorate will see through.”

The original budget report said the council’s expenditure in 2015/16 would be £11,924,194, which would have meant no increase in Council Tax from Harborough Council – a freeze for the fifth year running.

But in the amended report, it showed a reduced expenditure of £11,681,544, which is £242,650 less than the original budget figure.

The report said that meant the district council could now reduce its Council Tax by five per cent.

Council leader Cllr Blake Pain said: “We are one of the very few councils in the country that have done this.”

But Cllr Knowles highlighted an officer comment in the same report that said the reduction in locally-generated Council Tax “will impact on the council on a recurrent basis, resulting in a reduction in overall funding options available to the council to balance the budget in future years”.

And Cllr Knowles said; “The budget before us is short-term.

“This action is pushing us into a troubled area in the future.”

Cllr Simon Galton (Liberal Democrat), added: “You shouldn’t use council reserves in this way.”

But Cllr Michael Rook (Conservative) argued: “The mathematics are sustainable.”

The new budget was passed by the Conservative majority.

After the meeting, Cllrs King and Pain both denied that the quarter-of-a-million bonus was a rabbit out of the hat designed to wrong-foot the Lib Dem opposition and to appeal to the electorate.

Council leader Cllr Pain said: “It’s quarter-of-a-million pounds from the reserves, mainly earmarked for a chief executive.

“We have now decided to move forward with a plan to do without a chief executive.”

Cllr King added: “And where is the Liberal Democrat alternative budget, or even alternative ideas?

“They don’t seem to have any.”