Council tax in South Gloucestershire is to be frozen for a fourth consecutive year after three-party revenue budget proposals were agreed at a meeting of Full Council tonight (Wednesday 19th February).
A revenue budget of £190.7 million was set for 2014/15, with council tax for a Band D property remaining unchanged at £1,245.20.
A further freeze is also planned for 2015/16, followed by a two per cent increase in 2016/17.
The council says it has been able to freeze council tax for a fourth year due to positive progress with its current savings programme, which will have delivered savings of £43m by 2014/15, and higher than expected council tax receipts. The cost of the freeze will also be partially offset by a 1 per cent central government grant.
In addition to the council tax freeze, the budget also sets out a new Council Savings Programme (CSP), which will begin in 2014/15, with the aim of delivering an additional £36m of savings by 2019/20.
This level of savings will require significant changes to services in the coming years as the role of the council evolves to meet anticipated reductions in its resources.
The budget was finalised following extensive consultation with residents which included road show events at the district’s main shopping areas, together with paper and online surveys and Area Forum exercises. In total, more than 2,300 people responded to the consultation.
Respondents were asked to consider which services the council should prioritise in the coming years, with care for vulnerable older people identified as the highest-priority service (selected by 68 per cent of respondents).
The consultation findings were reflected in tonight’s budget, which includes plans for additional investment in community care and older peoples’ services over the next three years.
Consultation respondents were also invited to consider how the council should approach cost-saving measures, with the majority (87 per cent) saying that the council should make more use of its land and assets. Two-thirds (66 per cent) said that more services should be made available online, while 60 per cent said that the council should seek cost-savings by involving communities more closely in delivering services, such as through volunteering.
The agreed budget sets out a review of council land and assets, a new digital strategy and a renewed commitment to working with the third sector and volunteers, while also reviewing how more services can be passed on to localities.
Source: Press release from South Gloucestershire Council.
Comment by the Conservative Group
Councillors in South Gloucestershire have today (Wednesday 19th February) voted to freeze council tax for the fourth year in a row, increase funding for voluntary groups and accelerate the expansion of two leisure centres.
It comes after news that an extra £4.3m ‘collection fund surplus’ will be shared out amongst the council £3.69m, police (£0.47m) and fire service (£0.18m).
This had sparked calls from Conservative councillors for a council tax freeze for the fourth year running – instead of increasing it by 2 per cent as the council had planned – and to use any money that’s leftover to protect services which would otherwise be cut.
Cllr John Calway (Con, Longwell Green), Leader of the Conservative Group on the politically ‘hung’ council, said:
“I’m delighted that the council has agreed to Conservative demands to freeze its part of the council tax bill for the fourth year in a row because this will save the average local household £350 over the four years.”
“We have also ruled out the introduction of charging to use council car parks because this protects local households who are struggling with the high cost of living.”
“And there is also funding leftover to protect the services that residents tell us are most important to them, including services which help residents feel safe and be safe, services which keep our streets clean and services which support our local young people.”
“Our group is also pleased to have got agreement on our proposals for additional funding to support local voluntary groups, change the council’s controversial part-night lighting policy and accelerate plans to expand leisure centres at Bradley Stoke and Longwell Green.”
A household council tax bill is made up of numerous ‘precepting authorities’, including town/parish councils, police and fire authority, as well as South Gloucestershire Council.
Comment by the Liberal Democrat Group
“None of us went into local government to dismantle it”. That was the strong message from South Gloucestershire Liberal Democrats at the council’s budget meeting tonight.
The council’s £190m budget was agreed unanimously. It included protections for the youth service, money devolved to Area Forums, and the continuation of free car parking in South Gloucestershire.
“In an area as diverse as South Gloucestershire, local decision making is vital,” said Liberal Democrat leader Ruth Davis. “What’s needed in Kingswood is not the same as what’s needed in Thornbury, or Marshfield.”
All councils get more money for six years after new homes are built – in South Gloucestershire, 25% of this is devolved to Area Forums to spend on local priorities. This means that in 2014/15, more money than ever before will be handed to the Forums, to spend on community groups, local parks, and other priorities that the local residents decide are most needed.
Lib Dems threw out options to cut key services, like the planning enforcement teams, and support to victims of domestic violence.
In addition, the Liberal Democrat group ensured that benefits would continue to be delivered speedily to those in need. “When the people who have nothing need help, it’s vital that they get a fast answer,” Cllr Davis said.
“This budget was put together in very difficult circumstances,” she added. “None of us went into local government to decide which bits of it to cut. The decisions will be made by the committees, in public, democratically and transparently. This council belongs to the residents of South Gloucestershire, not us, and this budget shows that we are here to serve them.”
Comment by the Labour Group
South Gloucestershire’s Labour councillors say they have played a leading role in protecting key services in their negotiations on the council’s budget, agreed this evening, which includes reversing the decision to switch off streetlights at midnight. As a hung council, each political group in South Gloucestershire develops its own budget plans which then have to be negotiated with the other political parties in order to obtain majority support.
With South Gloucestershire Council facing spending cuts of almost £40m over the next 6 years, on top of the £43m of cuts already made, its Labour members have focussed on safeguarding key frontline services as the future savings plans are developed.
Many proposals in Labour’s 2014 budget package were tonight agreed as part of the overall council budget. These include ongoing protection for library and public toilet provision, free car parking, street marshals, dog wardens, planning enforcers and those tackling domestic violence and antisocial behaviour. Further cuts to the youth service are ruled out, and Labour is confident that the council will deliver on its long-standing commitment to provide a youth centre in Staple Hill.
A handful of new projects promoted by Labour have been approved. Some streetlights will be kept on for an extra hour between midnight and 1am, in response to widespread concern from residents about the council’s part night lighting programme. The £10 charge for disabled Blue Badges is to be scrapped, and the council will pay the individual membership fee for residents to join a Credit Union, where they could receive money management advice.
Speaking about the budget, Labour Group Leader Councillor Andy Perkins (Labour, Woodstock) said:
“With only 15 councillors I can honestly say that Labour has punched above its weight in drawing up the 2014 budget. With the Council tonight adopting many of our budget priorities, we have played a leading role in protecting key services such as libraries and public toilets.”
“We have also responded to residents’ concerns that the streetlights are being switched off too early, and have budgeted long term to protect free car parking and our youth service against the savage cuts that we face in future years.”
“We know that we cannot balance the council’s books without making cuts that will affect council services and our local communities, because the Tory-led Government is squeezing our funding. More tough and unpopular decisions will be forced on us over the next few years, and George Osborne has said that we will face even deeper cuts if the Conservatives win the next election.”