COUNCIL tax payers in Stockton borough will face a 1.9 per cent increase in their council tax after councillors backed the rise.

Members of the authority’s cabinet unanimously accept the recommendation during a short hearing this afternoon (Thursday).

Bob Cook, Labour leader of the council, told the meeting that he felt that council had to impose the increase now or face a larger funding deficit in the coming years.

The decision means it will not accept the Government's offer of a grant in return for freezing council tax, a decision already criticised by Stockton South's Tory MP James Wharton.

The council is using some of its reserves to fill the gap created by the reduction in funding from central government for the coming year but Coun. Cook warned this would mean they would face tougher decisions in the future.

He said: “If we don’t act now we will have to do it in the future when we would have had to find a lot more money to balance the books.

“It’s going to be a tough year as councillors, we are going to have to make some tough decisions. I would recommend that we do impose that small increase of 1.9 per cent.”

The recommendation was backed by Ann McCoy, the cabinet member for children and young people, who praised the work of officers in balancing the budget.

She said: “I think the officers have done a sterling job, if funding continues to fall and pressures continue to rise within the children and adults service, we will be facing some tough decisions in coming years.”

The council is having to use more than £3m from its reserves to make the budget balance and it has already shed 600 jobs in the past three years.

Coun Cook said it was likely, with more than 75 per cent of the budget going on wages, that more jobs will be lost in the future.

And Councillor Jim Beall, deputy leader, added: “The real challenge is going to come in coming months, when we have to look to bridge the forthcoming gap (in funding from the government) and that is why we are going to make some really tough decisions.”

Conservative group leader Ken Lupton called on the cabinet to reject the increase but members unanimously accepted the proposal.

It will now have to go before full council next week for ratification.