RENTS for 18,000 council tenants in South Tyneside are to rise by an average of £5.50 a week, it has been revealed.
However, there was better news for residents in the borough as South Tyneside Council boss, Coun Ed Malcolm, revealed that Council Tax bills are to be frozen for the fourth consecutive year.
The details emerged from the local authority’s budget plans for the coming 12 months in which it needs to find another £18m worth of savings.
That is made up of a £9m reduction in Government funding and another £9m in other areas – particularly services for the young and elderly.
Savings need to be identified out of a revenue budget – made up from government funding and Council Tax payments – of £148m for 2014/15.
Despite the pressures, the council is committed to spending almost £5m improving borough highways and footpaths.
It is pushing ahead with selling off council buildings which are regarded as being “surplus to requirement” – with profits re-invested in capital programmes.
As a result of a Council Tax freeze, the owner of an average Band C property in the borough will pay an estimated £1,290 for the year from April.
Meanwhile, council rents will increase by 6.8 per cent, which is in line with Government guidelines.
That would mean the average weekly borough rent, which currently stands at £78.34 over a 48-week period, rising by about £5.50 – which still represents the lowest level in Tyne and Wear.
It’s estimated the hike will add an additional £4.7m to the council’s coffers.
Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, today pledged that “no one would suffer” as a result of the budget proposals he has overseen.
There was also a commitment that job losses at the council will be less than in previous years – with more than 1,000 posts shed since 2010.
He said: “Even though we have had £18m of budget cuts to find this year, I’m confident that this budget will mean we can still provide services to anyone who wants them, anyone who needs them.
“No one will suffer because of this budget. As a Labour council, we remain committed to social justice.
“The key message is that is that we are continuing to get funding reductions, we’ve got nine per cent less core funding and we still have the standstill financial pressures on top.
“We’re going to be freezing Council Tax for the fourth consecutive year and that means we will have the third lowest in the North East, and we remain committed to our ambitious regeneration of the borough.
“We face £18m worth of savings in the year ahead. The days of salami-slicing budgets are over.
“We’ve looked at integration, working with partners in the private sector, the public sector and the voluntary sector on Adult and Social Care.
“The council has a lot of buildings which have passed their sell-by-date and I think we can work more efficiently by redesigning the town hall and have the majority of staff transferred there.
“Then we have the community hubs which will provide a majority of services under one roof.”
Coun Malcolm added: “There will still be job implications but we will endeavour to keep away from compulsory redundancies.
“Because we are redesigning services there will be redundancies but we envisage there will be less than in previous years. We are also putting substantial investment in highways and pathways and increasing amount of money going to Community Area Forums by £50,000.”
Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, said: “Jobs-wise, next year we are hearing that there will be a little bit of respite in terms of a large number of job losses.
“But there are still going to be job losses in the area of business support and the merger of some other services together.”