Council tax bills to rise in North Somerset by 1.5 per cent
By Prue_Reid | Tuesday, February 05, 2013, 17:13
COUNCIL tax bills in North Somerset are to increase by 1.5 per cent as the cashstrapped authority battles to balance its books.
The rise is equivalent to 33 pence per week for the average band D property – a bill of £1,164.88 a year - a rise of £16.95.
The decision which will need to be approved by the full council was taken this week by North Somerset Council's executive.
Councillors are due to meet on Tuesday, February 19, to approve the budget for 2013-14 of £158.427 million, which includes cuts of £9.7 million.
North Somerset Council leader and Conservative ward councillor for Gordano Nigel Ashton, said: "Challenging finances are not new to us.
"We are a low-funded and low-spending authority and have successfully dealt with previous budget reductions.
"However, we have never faced such challenging times which will be with us for years. The scale of change will be significant and the council will look, feel and operate very differently in the future.
"Despite this, our vision and ambitions remain the same. We are committed to providing clear leadership, quality services and an affordable council tax.
"We have ambitious plans for improving North Somerset and are committed to them.
"But the ways we achieve those plans will change, and will inevitably have an impact on residents, communities, partner organisations and our own staff.
"We need to look at everything we do and all the services we provide and it is likely that the level of savings required will mean that some current services may need to be stopped, with reduced funding being focused on critical services and key priorities we identify."
Mr Ashton added that government grant funding had been reduced by 6.3 per cent for 2013-14 but that the council is still waiting for confirmation of the final settlement.
He added that it is because of unfair funding that the decision to raise council tax has had to be taken.
"We have considered the proposals put forward in the alternative budgets by opposition groups, each of which suggest a two per cent tax rise, and also examined the freeze grant the government is offering.
"However the numbers just don't add up, which is why, with some regret we are proposing this increase."
Despite the financial challenges faced by the council, the authority is responding to recent issues by allocating an additional £1.26m for road maintenance and flooding issues in 2013-14.
North Somerset Labour Party has supported the call for an increase in council tax with the following proviso:
- The revenue generated must be used to maintain services for the most vulnerable people in North Somerset and not for any further investments that do not have this specific aim; and
- Any increase should not be applied to homes on low incomes as they are already, and for the first time, facing an unnecessary and damaging increase this year, which has been forced on councils by central Government.
"This is an opportunity for our council to use the extra revenue for its proper purpose of helping the community by maintaining vital local services."
Last month Liberal Democrat leader Mike Bell made an unsuccessful bid to put forward an alternative budget for North Somerset Council.
In an attempt to plug a £5 million spending gap the 40-year-old Weston councillor is to submit a revised budget at a full council meeting in January.
The annual budget is approximately £410 million to cover fire, police, schools, highways, environment and a number of other statutory duties.
The council has been tasked to make drastic cuts in the past three years and by 2018 the total savings required will top £86 million.
This includes an additional £39m funding gap over the next five years, due to extra Government cutbacks in public expenditure.
Among the 14 proposals in their budget amendment, the Liberal Democrats wanted to:
- Reduce the award-winning North Somerset Life magazine to a quarterly, saving £100,000 a year;
- Cancel the proposed demolition of the Tropicana and use the £700,000 saved to instead develop a new children's and health centre for Weston, based at the old library building;
- Transfer ownership of district council owned car parks where charges do not currently apply to town and parish councils, giving security of 'free' parking to our communities and saving £100,000 a year in maintenance costs;
- Invest £200,000 in a new retail development project to boost independent retailers and bring empty shops back into use;
- Invest an additional £4 million in highways infrastructure repairs and flooding alleviation;
- Invest £237,000 into youth services to continue to support networks across North Somerset;
- Reduce car parking charges and improve residents' parking permits in Weston-super-Mare;
- Introduce parking charges for council staff and councillors, generating income of £50,000 a year;
- Sack one executive member, saving £25,000 a year;
- Abolish the proposed two months council tax free period for empty homes, generating income of £900,000 a year;
- Increase council tax by a below-inflation two per cent, generating income of £1.6m a year; and
- Restructure the senior management structure of the council, including the chief executive's office, saving £50,000 a year.