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29th Jun, 2022

Stratford District Council leader defends needs must budget

CONTROVERSIAL budget decisions are a needs must in the face of government funding cuts says Stratford District Council leader Tony Jefferson.

The Conservative-controlled council voted through its budget in a full council meeting on Monday (February 24) despite strong opposition against some proposed increases and charges set to impact residents.

Among them was a 3.6 per cent council tax hike, a 20 per cent increase in parking charges across district council run car parks and a £40 garden waste charge.

Liberal Democrats voted against all three proposals and the party’s own proposal to postpone the green waste charge for six months was voted down by Tory councillors.

Liberal Democrat leader Susan Juned said: “A six month delay would have allowed the council time to consider the government’s long term plan for funding councils and the government’s proposals on green waste, but the Conservatives were determined not to wait for this.

“With council reserves in excess of the whole of next year’s income from the council tax many residents will be puzzled at the Conservatives’ enthusiasm for raising council tax and council charges.”

But Coun Jefferson argued the council needed to act now to limit the significant impact of government cuts.

He said: “Frustratingly, we were due to have the benefit of a four year settlement review, but events have made us wait for another year.

“We do know, however, that local government at district council level is not one of the government’s highest priorities. Support from central government has declined over recent years, with the exception of the New Homes Bonus, which will disappear over the next three years.

“Whatever comes out of the next four year spending review, district councils are likely to receive less and there will be an increasing need for the cost of local government at district level to be met locally.

“The long term soundness of the council’s financial position is the bedrock of its ability to meet residents’ expectations. This budget agreed today protects the council’s capacity and capability to provide the level and quality of services that our residents need.

“There is little room for manoeuvre with the constraints we work under. We are limited in the increase we can make in council tax and we have to maintain reserves of at least £2.5million with the Section 151 officer being satisfied that we have a sustainable budget.

“Today’s budget provides a realistic forecast and a sound basis to respond to the spending review. Deferring tough decisions now means even tougher decisions will need to be made in the future.”

Tory controlled Warwickshire County Council has agreed an inflation-busting 3.99 per cent council tax hike. The county council takes the lion’s share of the total bill at around 80 per cent. Warwickshire Police account for just over ten per cent and this year is calling for a rise of nearly 4.4 per cent.

Other decisions in the district council’s budget 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.

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