Changes likely for Northamptonshire council tax payers

Proposed unitary authority boundaries for Northamptonshire
Proposed unitary authority boundaries for Northamptonshire

Northamptonshire residents will face a change in their council tax rates if the county’s eight councils are replaced with two new unitaries.

There is likely to be be a mixed bag of changes for households depending on where they live as the new unitaries will seek to ‘harmonise’ council tax levels.

Currently those living in Northampton borough pay the highest council tax for borough council services, with a band D household paying £80 more a year than their East Northamptonshire equivalents who pay the lowest in the county.

Councillors at all of the eight councils will decide in a series of meetings next week whether they want to join the bid to central government for a two-unitary authority system.

If the new unitaries do come into place it will mean huge upheaval across all areas of local governance and how the authorities are financed will be a key part of discussions.

In other parts of the country where unitary reorganisation is planned harmonisation of council tax is being suggested over several years.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by the eight councils says: “The impact of harmonising council tax is a key factor which will affect the income available to the new authorities. There are variables here including the period of harmonisation and the level to which harmonisation takes place. Government advice is that a precise equalisation scheme will be set out in a Statutory Instrument and will have regard to local preference, impact on the new councils’ finances and the impact on council tax payers.”

Northamptonshire council tax bills are made up of various different amounts. Households make a payment for services provided by the county council and the borough or district council and then there is an adult social care precept, a payment to the Northamptonshire police and crime commissioner for police services, and those areas that also have a town or parish council pay a further precept.

The bulk of the council tax currently goes toward services delivered by Northamptonshire County Council.  Anyone living in a band D property pays the county authority £1,147 per year plus a £90 adult social care precept.

There is a wide variation on the borough and district councils’ charge for those living in a band D property.

Northampton borough council’s levy is the highest at £219, Kettering Council’s is £206, Corby Council’s is £190; South Northamptonshire Council’s is £186, Daventry Council’s is £156, Wellingborough Council’s is £146 and East Northants Council’s is the lowest at £139.

The favoured plan for unitaries is one providing services for the north covering Kettering, Corby, East Northants and Wellingborough and one for the west covering Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire.

The PWC report says the decision about  how to tackle council tax levels will come under the new shadow councils which look likely to come into place next year.

It says: “The shadow authorities will wish to determine and then suggest their preferred approach. At this stage, it is important to note that arrangements for council tax harmonisation will create a sensitivity to the reorganisation financial analysis which brings further uncertainty to financial projections and can lead to income foregone. For this reason, the councils will need to work closely with government to find the optimum approach that balances impact on the taxpayer with sustainability of the new councils.”

Only one of the eight councils needs to vote in favour of the outlined unitary bid for it to go to central government. Secretary of State for local government James Brokenshire will then make his decision and the process can then proceed.

Sarah Ward, Local Democracy Reporter