Council tax to rise as Stevenage residents bear brunt of COVID-19 costs

A new Stevenage Borough Council neighbourhood system is set to launch in October. Picture: Archant

Cllr Sharon Taylor said residents were faced with paying a "COVID tax", after more than a decade of government cuts to local councils. - Credit: Archant

Council tax is set to rise for Stevenage residents to help pay for the mounting costs of COVID-19, after the town's councillors unanimously voted to approve their annual financial budget last night.

After a debate lasting more than an hour and a half, every councillor present voted in favour of the 2021/22 financial budget, which will see council tax rise by 2.32 per cent for the average Band C property for the following year.

For 2021/22, a Band C property will now pay £1,692.62 - that is the accumulation of a council tax increase of 3.99 per cent by Herts County Council, and a rise of 7.58 per cent from the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Stevenage Borough Council receives 11 per cent of every pound of council tax paid.

Cllr Sharon Taylor, leader of SBC, opened proceedings by saying: “It has been an extraordinary year for our country, our community and local government. I want to start by thanking our exceptional Stevenage community, and a heartfelt thank you to every member of our team in local government.

She also pointed to the Government's announcement during December's Spending Review of an increase in local government spending of 4.5 per cent, that in actual fact would be paid for by increases to council tax, rather than Government-led funding or grants.

"87 per cent of that core spend increase is to come from council tax increases. It's clear now that far from providing security and stability our residents need, they are faced with increases in council tax to pay the bills for COVID. A COVID-19 tax."

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Cllr Philip Bibby, leader of the opposition, responded by saying: "It's easy to criticise the Government for not funding all additional spending of local authorities, and limited financial support for suffering individuals, families and businesses.

"There is no forest of money trees out there. Before this council, and any other, feels hard done by, I would suggest the following is considered. So far, over £140 million has been provided to Herts County Council. 

"Although my group is ready to support this budget, we are looking to see the drain on general balances ceasing as projected in a couple of years."

SBC's forecasted net budget for 2021/22 stands at £10.6 million, and is funded from government grants and lower tier support (2.4 per cent), localised business rates (36.6 per cent), council tax (57.9 per cent) and a contribution from existing balances (3.1 per cent).

The budget also includes measures to continue the £1 billion town centre regeneration plans, the delivery of affordable housing in the district, Survivors Against Domestic Abuse service and the co-operative neighbour programme.

Cllr Taylor concluded by reiterating the council’s commitment to working co-operatively to bring social and economic benefits to Stevenage communities and businesses as part of the plan to rejuvenate the town after the height of the pandemic. 

She added: "Our ability to absorb the enormity of COVID-19 on our council and finances needs to be considered alongside huge cuts.

"Over the last 10 years, the government has continued to reduce local government funding; local councils who connect with communities, resident groups and local people of all age groups to deliver services that make a huge difference to their day-to-day lives.

“During the last 12 months since our last budget announcement, local people have needed us and have turned to our services, knowledge and network to get through what has clearly been troubling times.

"The pandemic has challenged everyone, yet the council is still focused on its bold ambitions and we took action early to ensure the continued financial resilience of the council. We are a council that prides itself on delivering 120 services ourselves.” 

 “We highly value the work of our partners, without whom we would not be able to deliver some of our key services and extend our reach and ability to support local people facing this global challenge.”

The total Council Tax bill for Stevenage for 2021/22 will be:

Band A - £1,269.47
Band B - £1,481.04
Band C - £1,692.62
Band D - £1,904.20
Band E - £2,327.36
Band F - £2,750.51
Band G - £3,173.67
Band H - £3,808.40

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