Dear Sir,

In last week’s edition of the Newton News, Councillor Stead claimed he would be trying to get a standstill budget at Great Aycliffe Town Council next year. I would like to give you the true facts about the processes leading to this Council’s budget and precept next year.

The end of year turnout of the Council’s financial position was established in early summer, after the first national lockdown.

Meetings were held between myself (as Chairman of Policy and Resources Committee) the Town Clerk, Andrew Bailey, and Dan Austin, our Finance Manager, to analyse options for the budget 2021/2022.

This was followed by a series of meetings with myself, the Finance Manager and the Chairmen and Vice Chairmen of committees. In the interest of fairness, we also informed and discussed senior opposition councillors of the financial position and possible options facing the Council.

The result of these consultations was that it was thought that Great Aycliffe Town Council was in a strong position to maintain most of its services to the public, even though Covid-19 could affect our final situation in the long term.

We also feared that central government could be forced into a considerable period of austerity, owing to the massive debt being forced upon it in combating the result of the virus.

The unanimous decision of these meetings was that we would aim to freeze the Council Tax next year.

Following these meetings, all councillors were informed of the situation and it was decided that the Council would work towards freezing Great Aycliffe Town Council’s precept next year and we will formally announce the precept request in early January 2021.

Earlier this year I invited Councillor Stead, through the Newton News, who at that time promised to reduce our precept, to come and present his proposals to myself or the Finance Manager, who would give them due consideration. Councillor Stead has not submitted any proposals and – to the best of my knowledge – has taken no part in any discussion regarding next year’s finances.

We are at the present in committee meetings discussing next year’s budgets for each committee. Last week, Councillor Stead attended the Environment & Recreation Committee meetings, when next year’s budgets were discussed in detail. At the virtual meeting Councillor Stead attended as a member of the public and when asked if he had any questions or comments to make, he simply said ‘no’.

The truth of the matter is that Councillor Stead is already electioneering for next year’s County Council elections and trying to claim credit for other councillors’ and officers’ work. Once again, I must state that I do agree with Councillor Stead that double taxation is unfair, but I will address that issue with readers in the near future.

Councillor Bob Fleming

Leader of the Council

Chairman of Policy and Resources