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INCREASED FEES: Councillors say it will ‘cost more to die’

INCREASED FEES: Councillors say it will ‘cost more to die’

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Councillors have questioned a local authority’s approach to increasing fees and charges, stating it will cost more to die and claiming vulnerable residents are being hit.

While many of the 462 separate fees and charges levied by Redcar and Cleveland Council are being frozen in 2021/22, a number of service areas will see price rises.

Car parking charges, however, will not change for the moment as the council is in the midst of drawing up a car parking strategy.

Examples of proposed increases include

:: A free school travel permit up 3.8% from £13 to £13.50

:: MOTs at council-run centres up 2.2% from £45 to £46

:: Buying a space for a grave up 2.4% from £830 to £850

:: Cremated remains – interment of ashes (Monday to Friday) up 3.2% from £190 to £196

:: Pest control (up to two visits) up 2.4% from £83 to £85

:: Allotment rental charges up from between 2.2% and 3.8%, depending on size

:: Saltburn chalets charge up 2.4% from £850 to £870 a year

:: Council day services for older people up 2.9% from £34.50 to £35.50 per day

:: Various increases to fees for marriage and civil partnership ceremonies up from between 1.7% and 3.3%

:: Daily charge for room hire at the South Tees Business Centre up from between 1.7% and 2.9% and at the Redcar and Cleveland Leisure and Community Heart up from between 1.5% and 2.5%.

Speaking at the council’s resources scrutiny committee, former council leader Sue Jeffrey, who is the Labour member for South Bank, said: “The increases seem to be in the areas that affect the majority of citizens, rather than those who pay fees for specific things.

“It will cost you more to die, it will cost more to get rid of vermin, your allotment will cost you more, if you are an old person your day service costs are going up, and it will cost you more to get married.

“These things are often put up by inflation, but a bit more of a strategic approach could have been given to this.”

She added: “We need to think sensitively about every single additional burden we are putting on our citizens at the moment.

“Although I do accept [increased fees] are one of the few ways that the council can raise any money.”

Independent councillor Anne Watts, who represents the Belmont ward in Guisborough, said: “[The increases] seem to be anything connected with covid that we might be able to make a profit out of, anything to do with deaths, in-house care for the vulnerable, also allotments, where everyone is going during covid, and dealing with the rising rat problem.

“All of those areas seem to have significant increases.

“I know we are short of money, but I do feel we are hitting the vulnerable and the lowest in our society.”

Assistant director of finance, Phil Winstanley said of the 462 fees and charges the council was responsible for, 82 were statutorily set and the remainder at its own discretion.

He said: “The vast majority are proposed to remain at current levels or inflated to about 2%.”

Mr Winstanley said the overall proposals were “fairly standard” and there were “no big outliers” in terms of any large increases that were planned.

Councillor Philip Thomson, leader of the Conservative group on the council, expressed frustration over the car parking review, adding: “Where is the urgency on car parking fees – this has been on the table for over a year?”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Glyn Nightingale, who is the cabinet member for resources, said he agreed with Cllr Jeffrey that a more strategic approach was needed and any criteria that was being used to make judgements on what changes to fees to make needed to be set out.

A council report said fees and charges provided an important income stream and were an essential element of its medium term financial strategy.

Meanwhile, members on another council committee – growth, enterprise and environment scrutiny and improvement – expressed concerns about whether residents could afford replacement wheelie bins.

The cost of a 240 litre wheelie bin is due to go up by 4.5% from £22 to £23 and a 360 litre bin by 2.6% from £39 to £40.

Councillor Billy Ayre, who represents Normanby for Labour, said: “There are people who can’t afford to replace their wheelie bin after it has been stolen.”

Councillor Barry Hunt, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and the environment, suggested the proposed rises for bins would be looked at again.

He said: “I don’t agree with pensioners having to fork out when they have their bins pinched, it is expensive enough.

“I didn’t agree to the prices they put on, but I did say they could go up to what inflation is.

“I would like to look at it again and it will be taken back and talked about.”

Members of the council’s cabinet will be asked to approve the proposed changes to fees and charges when they meet next week.

Words: Stuart Arnold, Local Democracy Reporter

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