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Council tax frozen but rents go up as £148m budget agreed

NEW WAYS ... Coun Ed Malcolm.

NEW WAYS ... Coun Ed Malcolm.

COUNCIL bosses in South Tyneside have approved a budget which freezes council tax in the borough despite them facing a double whammy of rising costs and Government cuts.

Spending in the borough will be cut by more than £18m over the coming year, during which time the council will receive nine per cent less funding from the Government compared to 2012/13.

It will also face increased costs of up to £9m – largely due to extra services required by an ageing population.

The budget – £148m for 2014/15 – was approved at a meeting of the full council last night.

As expected council tax will be frozen for the fourth consecutive year, but rents are set to rise by 6.8 per cent – meaning tenants face an average hike of about £5.50 a week.

Council bosses say both decisions have been enforced, in part, by central government guidelines and restrictions.

Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, said: “Over the coming year we must save a further £18m, but we are committed to providing quality services and investing in the borough’s future.

“We have left no stone unturned in looking for savings. The result is a strong budget to protect services in a difficult financial climate.”

He added: “After saving more than £90m over four years, we face a further reduction at the same time as rapidly increasing demand for services.

“A piecemeal approach is simply not an option and that is why I have challenged every part of the council to look at the way it operates and find new ways of working.”

He added: “By putting everything under the microscope, we are protecting services and finding ways to improve them. We are reducing the number of council buildings, so that we can spend less on bricks and mortar and more on people.

“We are also getting better value by changing our purchasing arrangements for equipment like hoists and stairlifts for disabled residents, and using new technology to help older people live independently for longer.”

The council will spend £65m improving homes over the next three years, and £32m upgrading paths and pavements over five years.

The authority also aims to save money through closer joint working with partner organisations.

Coun George Elsom, leader of the opposition Independent group, said: “In the last four years, cuts have resulted in much poorer services to the general public.

“We should have two councillors per ward, not three, and senior officers’ salaries are excessive. The top five officers are paid a total of almost £700,000 between them.

“Senior council officers should not earn more than the Prime Minister, or even the President of France. But they do.

“Public sector pay, for the top officers, is out of control.”

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