Council approves budget and 2.5% tax increase

South Gloucestershire Council has adopted a 2.5 per cent council tax increase and a budget of just under £190m for 2010/11.

The rise will mean the average band D property in South Gloucestershire will pay a council tax of £1,245.20. This represents an increase of just under 60 pence a week for council services, compared to 2009/10.

The budget provides for:

  • An extra £2million a year to improve the maintenance of roads, pavements and drains in the district (including funding towards repairing potholes caused by the recent adverse weather)
  • Around £1.2million for a transport concession scheme for young people aged 14 to 18-years-old
  • An extra £650k towards safeguarding vulnerable children
  • Maintaining concessionary fares for older people
  • £600k a year extra for community care to reflect the increased client care numbers
  • A reserve of £1.4million to help protect services in the future as funding reduces because of the current financial climate

Also, work is planned to start or conclude on a number of capital schemes in the next financial year (2010/11), including:

  • A £12million community special school
  • Around £10million towards two “hubs” providing a range of services for children and young people and their families in partnership with NHS South Gloucestershire
  • Three multi-million pound extra care housing developments
  • £2.5million refurbishment of Kingswood leisure centre

The council consulted widely, including holding public meetings and getting nearly 1,500 responses to a Viewpoint Panel survey – a representative sample of the views of South Gloucestershire residents. Around 60 per cent of respondents to the survey felt that the council provides good value for money, up 10 per cent on last year’s one.

Conservative statement: Green light for lowest ever council tax rise …

The Conservative administration on South Gloucestershire Council has pushed through plans for the district’s lowest ever council tax rise, despite being one of the lowest funded councils of its kind in the country.

Despite opposition from Liberal Democrat councillors, Conservative councillors won the crunch budget vote after Labour abstained.

At 2.5 per cent for 2010/11, it will be the lowest council tax rise in the Council’s history and would be down on the 2.9 per cent for 2010/11 that was proposed in September 2009 after it was found that the council is on course to collect over £800K more in council tax than it was expecting.

Other budget highlights for 2010/11 include:

  • £650K funding boost for safeguarding vulnerable children, including £150K to strengthen the Kingswood child social care team;
  • plugging the government’s confirmed £390K cut to the district’s over 60s bus pass scheme;
  • the introduction of a £1.2M flagship youth concessionary travel scheme;
  • maintaining the extra £2M to tackle the decade-old repair backlog and improve the condition of local roads and footpaths;
  • £600K a year extra for community care to reflect the increased client care numbers;
  • A reserve of £1.4M to help protect services in the future as funding reduces to tackle the soaring national debt.

Since the Conservatives began running the Council as a minority administration in May 2007, council tax rises have been falling steadily from 4.5 per cent in 2008/09, 3.9 per cent in 2009/10, a confirmed 2.5 per cent rise in 20010/11 with future plans to bring them down to just 2 per cent in line with the national inflation target.

The cuts in council tax rises come despite South Gloucestershire Council being one of the lowest funded unitary authorities in the country.

As a result, one of the outcomes of this year’s budget consultation has seen the number of residents that think that the Council offers good value for money leap from 49 per cent a year ago to 59 per cent today – a 10 point improvement.

Cllr John Calway, Leader of the Council’s Conservative administration, said:

“I am disappointed that Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors failed to support our budget because it is one that delivers the lowest ever council tax rise in the district’s history, strengthens essential frontline services and prepares the district for the tough years ahead.

All three major parties are committed to public spending reductions in the years ahead and so we cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend that tough public spending decisions are not on the way as a result of the dire state of the national finances.

Residents are counting on us to be responsible and that’s why we are making the assumption that government support will fall by 1.5 per cent a year for the foreseeable future.

Our service review efficiency drive will not only improve services and stop residents being passed from pillar to post, but it will release resources that help prepare us for the leaner times ahead.

The alternative ‘do nothing’ option preferred by some would leave the district dangerously exposed to the tough public spending decisions we know are coming whatever happens after the coming election.”

He added:

“I am pleased that many more residents than last year tell us that we are providing better value for money and we are committed to meeting their rising expectations, especially during these tough economic times.

2010 will also see the full roll-out of our flagship youth concessionary travel scheme, as well as pumping in an extra £2m to improve the condition of local roads and footpaths in a continued effort to reverse the neglect seen since South Gloucestershire Council came into existence.”

Liberal Democrat statement: Conservative ‘savings’ plans will lead to cuts in Council services …

Commenting on Conservative budget Leader of the Lib Dem group Cllr Ruth Davis said,

“The items featured in the corporate release are not all new. It is just highlighting the exciting and ambitious plans which were agreed in the previous year by all three political groups in a consensus budget. There are some understandable new pressures, such as increased costs for looked after children which of course the Liberal Democrats would wish to support. And the £1.2m for the young persons’ travelcard was a Liberal Democrat budget initiative after responding to the Members of the Youth Parliament’s campaign. We are disappointed that this administration has left some under 19s out of the scheme but we will continue to ask for those young people not in full time education to be included as we believe this is an equalities issue.”

However Cllr Ruth Davis outlined why the Liberal Democrat Group could not trust the Conservative leadership’s judgement on the budget she said, “For example, we have just experienced extreme weather conditions that have had a major impact on our roads. Of course we would want the Council to be filling in potholes as quickly as they can, but we are worried you are using money this year that should have been spent on upgrading roads next year to stop this sort of problem in the first place. The Tory’s blinkered approach to this budget will just make this problem worse. They are borrowing from next years’ funds without making any plans to finance that essential work that will now have to be left for yet another year, which means if we have more bad weather there will be more potholes, as roads haven’t been resurfaced!”

“I also believe that ICT (Information computing technology) is the real risk to you being able to deliver the services reviews that all political groups agreed in principal last year in a shorter timescale. From ICT experiences in commercial and public organisations we know we are often promised the earth but don’t get it; ICT projects frequently cost more and take longer to work properly than expected. I do not think it will be for lack of officers trying to deliver the service review savings but the reality will be different. I just don’t think you can be certain that these savings will be delivered. Banking on these extra savings could jeopardise the Council’s ability to deliver the vital services and advice to the public. The Liberal Democrats will not support any budget which causes direct or indirect loss of frontline services.”

Source: South Gloucestershire Council

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