Claims of bad value for Norfolk council tax disputed

Norfolk County Council tax bill. Picture: Denise Bradley

Personal finance website money.co.uk claimed that council taxpayers in Great Yarmouth were getting their "worst return" on their money across all of England - Credit: Archant

Claims that council taxpayers in Great Yarmouth are getting the worst value for their money across all of England have been disputed by council officials, who argue that important contexts have been missed.

The allegation has been made in a dataset produced by personal finance website money.co.uk, which has also claimed that Norwich taxpayers were receiving the second “worst return” on their cash in the country.

The data looked at six different services, four of which are provided by Norfolk County Council (NCC). 

Andrew Jamieson, NCC’s Conservative cabinet member for finance, said the analysis “highlights the urgent need for reform of the regressive and unfair council tax system”, rather than indicating that services in Norfolk are particularly poorer than elsewhere. 

Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

The scores given to each council area were a combination of fire service response time, percentage of household waste recycled, percentage of roads that need repair, crime rate per 10,000 people, percentage of schools rated good/outstanding and percentage of care homes rated good/outstanding. 

Some of the scores used countywide data, while some categories used data specific to each of Norfolk's seven district council areas. 

Great Yarmouth received the lowest overall score, coming 305th out of 305 council areas. 

A spokesman for Great Yarmouth Borough Council said: “This study is completely flawed as it fails to recognise that district councils do not provide any of the services rated, other than the household waste collection.

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“It claims to be measuring services which are provided by other authorities, but it is difficult to understand how they have been arrived at and it certainly does not reflect the role of the borough council.”

Summer in Great Yarmouth on the seafront.

Great Yarmouth was the area to perform the most poorly on money.co.uk's league table of council tax value. - Credit: Denise Bradley

A spokeswoman for the Norfolk Waste Partnership - a partnership of Norfolk’s councils working to improve recycling services - pointed out that the data used on household waste is from April – June 2020, when people were working from home and generating a lot more waste, while food and garden waste collections were suspended.

Recycling in Norfolk has since increased, she added.

Collection days and times for household waste and recycling is set to change in the Breckland district.

A spokeswoman for the Norfolk Waste Partnership said the percentage of household waste being recycled had increased since the earliest months of the pandemic, when the data was sourced. - Credit: Archant

NCC’s Mr Jamieson said the data showed that council tax needed “systemic” reform, and that rural areas were disadvantaged compared with urban areas in terms of squeezing the same value out of council tax. 

“Levels of council tax bear little or no relation to household income levels, changes in property values since 1991 when council tax was introduced, and (in many cases) the actual services received,” he said. 

“Research by the Rural Services Network demonstrates that ‘rural residents pay more, receive fewer services and, on average, earn less than those in urban areas’.

“In 2022-23 the average total Band D council tax for a tax payer in Great Yarmouth is £2,002 compared to just £873 for Wandsworth (the council ranked as having the “best” return nationally).

County Hall, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

County Hall in Norwich. Councillor Andrew Jamieson argued that there was a systemic issue with making council tax stretch as far in rural areas as it does in urban areas. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

“This is a systemic issue which starkly demonstrates how council taxpayers in Norfolk are asked to contribute significantly more for the local services they receive than those in predominantly urban areas, and the county council continues to lobby the government to address this at a national level.    

“Within this context, in Norfolk we are working hard to make the council more efficient and effective while keeping rises in council tax to a minimum when our residents are facing rapid rises in the cost of living.

“We are staging a strategic review to ensure the council is match fit for the future and works harder for every £1.

“There’s no denying there are big challenges in providing services across a large, rural, and ageing population, and we are striving to spend your council tax wisely and get the best results for Norfolk.”

On the table, South Norfolk performed the best in Norfolk, coming 219th out of 305, with Broadland 245th, North Norfolk 270th, Breckland 285th, King's Lynn and West Norfolk 288th and Norwich 304th. 

Norwich Castle.

Norwich performed the second-worst out of the 305 English council areas considered by money.co.uk - Credit: Damian Grady © Historic England

A North Norfolk District Council spokesman pointed out that their council’s score for household waste - the only service of the six they are responsible for providing - was "around the average" of councils across England. 

The best performing area in the league table was Wandsworth in London, followed by Wigan in Manchester and Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire.