The Tory-led Coalition running Durham County Council has been accused of breaking a key election pledge by increasing Council Tax.

Labour has called on the Coalition of Conservative, LibDem and Independents to come clean on its “hidden” tax hike and accused the Coalition of attempting to force through a budget that breaks promises made to county voters.

Councillors heading up the Tory-led Coalition pledged to voters that Council Tax would not be raised, should they gain power in last May’s elections, but at today’s (Wednesday, February 23) Budget and Council Tax Setting meeting, will try to force through a 3% rise, badged as part of the adult care precept.

The move to raise Council Tax to fund adult social care is a strange one, with Tory Leader Cllr Richard Bell last year claiming “there is no crisis in social care” in County Durham.

County Durham Labour Deputy leader and Labour Finance Spokesperson, Cllr Rob Crute, said:

“It’s funny how Coalition policy changes to suit its own needs: no Council Tax hikes become a 3% rise, no social care crisis becomes a need to raise funds for adult social care and their pledge of open and honest processes are anything but. I say “funny”, but it’s not. This Council takes its lead from the Tory Government. Making promises it can’t deliver, blaming others for its own mistakes and taking credit for the work of others.

“Our residents deserve better. During a decade of austerity, as the Government merrily stripped over £240m from County Durham services, Labour delivered three budgets that froze Council Tax.

“What we have seen from these Tories, backed by LibDems and so-called Independents, in less than ten months in charge, is a Council Tax rise, reduced fire service funding, refusal to back calls for ventilation for school classrooms, an attempt to give themselves a pay rise and money stripped from AAP budgets.

“Is that what people in County Durham voted for?”

Labour has called on the Coalition to come clean and explain why it claims on social media to propose a 0% Council Tax increase while pushing through a 3% hike.

Carl MarshallLabour Leader, Cllr Carl Marshall added:

“Taxpayers deserve the truth. The Coalition owes people an explanation – why is it going against a pledge not to raise Council Tax? Why raise the adult social care precept if, as Richard Bell said on record a few short months ago, there is no social care crisis in County Durham? What is the justification for raising taxation locally at a time this Tory Government is already squeezing every penny it can from taxpayers?

“Families in County Durham are in the teeth of a cost of living crisis, with inflation soaring to its highest rate in 30 years; prices, energy, tax and National Insurance all going up, while wages drop. Exceptional times call for exceptional measures – Labour will not and cannot support a budget based on a 3% Council Tax increase.

“The Coalition must scrap its proposals and come back with a balanced budget that protects frontline services and sets Council Tax at a justifiable and affordable level, helping residents suffering due to an unprecedented squeeze on household budgets.”

County Durham taxpayers are already reeling from the impact of 12 years of Government austerity. A motion agreed at Full Council last month urged the Government to take all measures necessary to alleviate the additional burden of a potential financial catastrophe, with:

  • Value of wages falling in real terms
  • County Durham disposable incomes lagging well behind England average
  • Central Government imposed taxes set to increase in April
  • Universal Credit benefit payments slashed by £20 a week
  • Energy prices are set to soar this Spring
  • Inflation rampant at an almost 30-year high
  • The Resolution Foundation estimating the average household will lose around £1,200p/y