Claims by a leading Conservative councillor that Northumberland County Council offers the second-most generous council tax support in the North East have been disputed.

Speaking at last week's meeting of the local authority's cabinet, deputy leader Coun Richard Wearmouth committed to providing 92% of tax support to the county's most vulnerable working-age residents. In doing so, he claimed the scheme was the most generous in the North East bar County Durham.

County Durham's administration is led by a coalition of parties including the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, and Coun Wearmouth took the opportunity to take a swipe at at neighbouring Labour authorities.

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  • He said the level of council tax support provided in Northumberland was something the North East's Labour bosses "may want to reflect" on when setting budgets. Labour in turn criticised the Conservative-led administration at county hall for its high level of council tax, before the Tories accused the previous Labour administration of financial mismanagement.

    The Local Democracy Reporting Service has contacted all of the councils in the LA7 group of North East authorities. The figures returned show that Labour-led Newcastle City Council provides up to 100% of council tax support in a banded system.

    Coun Paul Frew, the city council's cabinet member for finance, hit back at Coun Wearmouth's claims.

    He said: "I'm quite surprised that they would make that claim without checking. We're very proud of the support we provide to people on the lowest incomes in the city.

    "Our support includes a 0 rate for people who are in the most need, and we think it is a crucial part of our response to the cost of living crisis. We increased the banding rates by the RPI this year, so 11%, and we will do the same thing this year."

    In turn, Coun Wearmouth has said that the two schemes are not comparable as Newcastle operates under a banding system, where residents can claim between 25% and 100% discount depending on their income.

    He said: "The scheme in Newcastle City Council is not in my view directly comparable with Northumberland’s. It has more bands than used to appear on Top of the Pops, so many caveats it comes with a 169 page explanation.

    “The Northumberland scheme is straight forward and has consistently included additional hardship measures delivering for those that need the councils help the most. Meanwhile in Northumberland, thanks to our council's policies no matter your income you can drive to and park in our towns for free; you won’t get charged a congestion charge; you will find schools rebuilt and pushing to the top of the Ofsted comparison tables; library’s in all our large communities; and new leisure centres where other councils are closing theirs down.”

    The level of support provided by each council in the LA7 to working age adults is as follows:

    • Newcastle -25% to 100% depending on income
    • County Durham - 100%
    • Northumberland - 92%
    • Gateshead - 91.5%
    • Sunderland - 91.5%
    • South Tyneside - 90%
    • North Tyneside - 85%

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