The new North East mayor will not be adding to residents’ council tax bills in their first 12 months.
A historic election of a new political leader to represent around two million people across Tyne and Wear, Northumberland, and Durham is now just a few months away.
Under the terms of the multi-billion pound devolution struck between local authorities and the Government, the mayor will have the power to put an extra precept on households’ council tax bills to raise extra revenue for the incoming North East Mayoral Combined Authority (NEMCA).
But while the identity of the mayor will not be known until May, a decision has already been taken that no such mayoral precept will be issued for the 2024/25 financial year.
As NEMCA is not yet in existence, its budget is being agreed by the existing North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) – whose sitting mayor, Jamie Driscoll, is also one of the candidates for May’s election.
Mr Driscoll, who is now an independent after quitting the Labour Party last year, has chosen not to impose a precept since his election in 2019 and confirmed on Tuesday that no new precept would form part of the initial NEMCA set-up.
He said: “We have not done that previously and we are not doing that again this year. That means that as we roll over into the new mayoral combined authority there will be no precept going with that.
“And it means that everything we have done has been funded from the money we have got from central government or levered in from the private sector, which is in the hundreds of millions. I am sure that will be very welcome to people struggling through a cost of living crisis.”
With local councils across the country facing a financial crisis, residents are set to be hit with council tax rises of up to 4.99% – which is the maximum amount allowed without a referendum being held.
Speaking at an NTCA cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Mr Driscoll added: “I really feel for my local authority colleagues. I am well aware of the pressures on their budgets and how difficult it is. As an independent, I have the freedom to say that I would very much like any national party to make a commitment that they will restore local government finance.
“Local government does so much, holds together so much in our local communities, and it really does need to be funded properly.”
Also expected to stand in the election, due to be held on 2 May, are Labour’s Kim McGuinness, Conservative Guy Renner-Thompson, Liberal Democrat Aidan King, Green candidate Andrew Gray, and Paul Donaghy for Reform UK.
The new mayor and combined authority will hold a raft of new decision-making powers and funding – covering issues including transport and housing.
Ms McGuinness, currently the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, recently announced that she is planning a rise of up to 7.7% in the policing precept also attached to council tax bills.
She said the increase was necessary to avoid having to make cuts of £4m to the force’s budget, while also pledging to use some of the extra revenue to reopen closed police stations.