STRATFORD District Council leader Tony Jefferson has called the proposed council tax hike ‘the least worst option’ after the authority revealed its budget plan.
The recommendations from the ruling Cabinet include a council tax increase of £5 a year increase on a Band D property – 3.6 per cent – in the authority’s share of the bill which amounts to around ten per cent. Warwickshire County Council’s precept amounts to the lion’s share of the overall bill at around 80 per cent.
The authority says it has been able to maintain a relatively low level of council tax after years of ‘prudent financial management’ while retaining reserves for future use.
Coun Jefferson said: “No one likes to pay more tax. However, we are between a rock and a hard place. Our funding is being cut, we are constrained in our ability to raise council tax and we have to demonstrate that we are financially sustainable in the medium term.
“District councils are at the bottom of the list when government funding is distributed – over the next few years we’re losing big chunks of our revenue. District councils just don’t have the revenue levers to pull. Of the council tax we collect we keep only 7.8 per cent.
“We are taking a strategic and prudent view given the funding issues we face. We have taken some tough decisions this year and we think that we will have to take more tough decisions next year. We believe that what we are doing represents the least worse option.”
This year’s budget proposals include:
* Financial support for the Fred Winter Project – £60,000 (ongoing)
A partnership of public, private and voluntary organisations in Stratford has been established to develop The Fred Winter Housing Plus Centre. The establishment, based in the former department store in Birmingham Road, will offer ‘immediate’ accommodation and ‘move on’ apartments to help people transition into permanent housing as well as a range of support services from organisations.
* UBUS contract extension – £109,000 (ongoing)
The Cabinet resolved to support the scheme, which collects people from their home and takes them to an agreed destination. The funding is split into two elements – approximately £89,000 which contributes towards the vehicle use and £20,000 which will fund the booking centre and registration provision.
*Core Strategy review – £1.6million (one-off)
The council has committed to reviewing its Core Strategy – the planning blueprint for sustainable future development in the district up to 2031 – from the summer. The council is obliged to assess whether its policies require reviewing every five years to determine whether they reflect current circumstances. Chiefs say, although the completion date is not until July 2021, an early review would allow climate change policies to be fully embedded.
*Housing register IT platform upgrade – £35,000 (one-off)
The current platform supporting the council’s housing advice, homelessness, housing register and choice based lettings has been in place since 2007. The IT underpinning this can now be developed to enhance customer interaction, offering self-service options and eliminating human validation and data entry.
*Waste contract renewal – consultancy advice – £50,000 (one-off)
In order to support the process of re-tendering the council’s major contracts, a suitably qualified and experienced external consultant is required to lead on new waste collection, recycling and street cleansing contracted services.
* Climate change strategy funding – £500,000 (one-off)
Following its climate emergency declaration and commitment to goals to be carbon-neutral across the district by 2030, the council agreed on the establishment of a working group to consult with local environmental groups, residents and businesses. The one-off sum will fund the work and proposals of the group.
A questionnaire will be sent to its citizens’ panel, to consult on issues including council tax and the proposed budget.
The results of the consultation will be considered before the final budget recommendations are made to council on Monday February 24.