Council press release on the budget propsal from the Liberal Democrat administration which I lead and reported in the Chronicle – click to read HERE
Council Tax freeze for 2013/14 – budget proposal published
A budget proposal for 2013/14 which freezes Council Tax, protects many frontline services, and invests in homes and jobs for local people will be discussed by Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Cabinet on Wednesday 13th February 2013.
Listening to local people
Councillor Paul Crossley (Lib-Dem, Southdown), Leader of Council, said, “Our proposal puts people first and communities at the heart of everything we do whilst ensuring our most vulnerable residents are given the support that they need.
“Because the Council has made back office savings of more than £25 million over recent years, delivered balanced budgets, and maintained a strong level of reserves, we are one of the few town halls in the region to propose freezing Council Tax whilst making sensible investment into our local communities. Our £147 million investment programme includes projects for Keynsham town centre’s regeneration, the creation the Bath ‘City of Ideas’ Enterprise Area, and the upgrade of the area’s public transport network.
“The Cabinet is listening to feedback from local people about their priorities. As a result, our proposal keeps free parking at sites where there is currently no charge outside Bath, maintains Recycling Centre opening times as they are, and preserved virtually all of our supported bus services.”
An initial plan for the budget was unveiled in November with more detailed plans for adult social care, education, place, resources and regeneration, skills and major projects debated by councillors. Three Budget Fairs and a public consultation were also held.
Protecting frontline services
One of the Cabinet’s key priorities is protecting frontline services despite a tough national economic situation, demographic change, and rising costs. This means that difficult decisions about the funding to some services and to whom they are provided in the future will need to be made.
Steps are being taken to reduce this impact, such as a voluntary Tourism Levy, and making further back office savings to become one of the most efficient councils in the country. However, to make the budget balance, annual reductions are planned of around £3 million for each of the next three years, which is equivalent to about 1.3% of our total budget.
Councillor David Bellotti (Lib-Dem, Lyncombe), Cabinet Member for Resources, said, “Because of our financial track record, the Council is in a better position than many other councils to reduce the impact on frontline services, particularly for elderly and vulnerable people. The challenges that we face mean that the Council must look at how to make further back office savings and provide services differently in the future.
“This could mean working more closely with community groups and local people when they are in the best position to make a difference to the place where they live, such as through our Community Library Programme or taking over the running of particular public toilets.
“We are also taking steps to ensure that the impact on people affected by the Government’s changes to welfare benefit is reduced through initiatives such as our social fund.”
Key highlights of the budget
Supporting the most vulnerable people and families
- The £260 million over the next three years that we will spend on adult social care must be focused on the most vulnerable people, promoting their independence through improved community services to ensure that residents, where possible, stay at home;
- An extra £3.25 million has been set aside for people with the highest care needs over the next three years;
- £4 million to fund school expansion in response to increases in the local birth rate and population growth;
New places to live and work
- Progressing the Bath ‘City of Ideas’ Enterprise Area through a combined total of over £27 million to regenerate key sites along the River Avon with employment space and places to live, including affordable homes;
- Completing a £34 million revamp of Keynsham town centre that will encourage private sector investment into the community;
A better quality of life in our communities
- Retaining weekly bins collections, freezing most car parking charges, and protecting the street cleaning budget;
- Completing the £32 million Bath Transportation Package;
- Investing £500,000 in cycle routes and £500,000 to continue rolling out 20 mph zones;
- £4.9 million in 2013/14 on a combination of road surface improvements and safety schemes;
- £2 million for Odd Down playing fields and cycle track;
- £225,000 in 2013/14 to improve the equipment in our playgrounds with further investment proposed over coming years.
What are the challenges and opportunities facing town halls?
In addition to central cuts from Government, there are also a wide range of other factors influencing the Council’s budget.
- Demographic change; Over three years, the local increase in the number of over-65s is projected to be 6.7% and the over-85s the figure is 7.7%. This will result in extra demand for local services resulting in huge financial pressures that must be planned for now. There is also a growing number of younger people who need more places for their education;
- New legislation; Government is passing a substantial range of legislation which has a direct impact on local government, for example the new Universal Credit system and reductions in funding for Council Tax Benefit;
- Incentives for growth; Although business rates will be set nationally, around a third of the growth from new businesses from April 2013 will be kept by the Council. This provides an extra incentive for the Council to invest in projects that create new private sector businesses, like the Bath City of Ideas Enterprise Area. The New Homes Bonus will also provide an opportunity for additional finance from central Government as well as the extra Council Tax raised from those homes to maintain services.
What happens next?
Following the Cabinet meeting on February 13th 2013, the proposal will be put forward for approval to all councillors for public debate on February 19th 2013.