COUNCILLORS have unanimously agreed to freeze council tax despite financial pressures impacting on services.

Hartlepool residents will not face an increase in their bills after the borough council approved the plan at a meeting on Thursday night.

Today, Mayor Stuart Drummond explained the reasoning behind the decision, which stands out from the plans of the other three Teesside local authorities – Middlesbrough, Stockton Borough and Redcar and Cleveland, who are looking at imposing a 1.99 per cent increase.

He said: “I think members are very conscious of the fact that people in Hartlepool are getting hit hard in the pocket, especially in April when the new Welfare Reform programme comes into force.

“The big fear around imposing an increase in council tax is the problem with collection rates, for us to raise it could prove to be a self defeating objective if people are unable to pay their bills.

“Hartlepool has one of highest proportions of people in the region who live on benefits and an increase in council tax could have been a step too far for some of them.

“For what is going to be a deficit of £400,000 in 2015, by not imposing a council tax increase, that is going to be on top of £23m that we have lost from our budget so it is not the greatest issue for our residents.”

The authority will now accept the Government's offer of a grant in return for freezing the council tax, while the three other Teesside authorities are proposing increases just under the two per cent rise that would invoke a referendum on the decision.

Despite the decision to freeze the council tax being supported unanimously at the vote, Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, the Labour Group leader, raised concerns about the risk of storing up budgetary deficits in the coming years.

Mr Drummond said: “We don’t know what the Government’s long term plans are as far as council tax is concerned, so this was a risk that we were prepared to take. It is an extremely complicated issue setting the budget and takes 12 months of extremely hard work to complete.

“We have done what we believe is the right thing for the residents of the town and hopefully, the residents will appreciate what we are trying to do for them.”

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