Dear Sir,

In response to Bob Fleming’s letter in last week’s Newton News, I, too, am very proud the Town Council has been able, yet again, to announce a freeze in Council Tax, despite a huge ‘hit’ of £95,000 on Council finances as a result of the government’s changes to Council Tax Welfare Benefits.

There are, however, two things which I would like to make clear. The first is that – although the Town Council has managed to get by without raising council tax – this has not been achieved without significant damage to the Great Aycliffe community.

The Town Council has been forced to abandon two planned apprenticeships which means that two Aycliffe young people will stay out of work next year – young people whom we would have wished to put on the first step of a career.

Another big disappointment has been the decision not to appoint a Neighbourhood Planning officer; a Neighbourhood Plan is essential to encourage growth whilst protecting our green spaces from rogue developments and – although we will still produce a Plan – it will now take longer and be limited in scope.

The second thing people need to realise that this is the result, not just of government policy, but of government incompetence. Mr Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, purported to be giving us a grant to cover 90% of the shortfall on Council Tax Welfare Benefit. However – because he did not take account of the mechanisms of parish finance (basic issues such as ‘gearing’ and the disproportionate impact of the unparished areas) – the grant to Great Aycliffe actually covered only 75% of the amount.

Worst of all, the government has as yet given no indication of whether or not there will be any grant at all next year, which makes it impossible to construct a meaningful medium term plan.

There are parishes in the County harder-hit than Great Aycliffe. Basically, the way it works is that, the poorer the parish, the worse the impact. If you are reading this in Shildon, then your council is the 105th worst-hit out of the 108 parish councils in County Durham. If you live in Eldon, yours is the worst-hit of all 108 councils. Meanwhile, five of the wealthier parish councils in the County are actually better-off as a result of Mr Pickles’s changes.

It is just another example of the Tories targeting the poorest areas and punishing them for having poor people living there.

It is another indication that we are not ‘all in this together’!

John D Clare