Friday, 14 March 2014

Council Tax & New Furniture? by Cllr Sebastian Kindersley

Cllr Sebastian Kindersley
Last month I wrote about the Council tax position at the County Council – this month at South Cambs! Another 24% cut in Government funding for South Cambridgeshire District Council means times will be tough there as well. Having delivered efficiency savings of around £5 million over the last four years, finding even more savings is going to be hard. To balance the books next year another £300,000 of savings will be delivered by the Council with a further £790,000 in 2015/16.

The Council plans to absorb almost 90% of the reduction in funding by generating income and delivering further efficiencies – equivalent to £18 per average band D home, with a proposed £2.40 (2%) rise in council tax for band D properties (less than 5 pence per week). Things being looked at include moving to a monthly green waste collection during the winter months. The proposed budget would also see reserves run down to £2.5 million by 2018/19.

South Cambs DC is not taking the Freeze Grant (of 1%) being offered by the government to those councils not increasing their rates. Because there has only been a small decrease in the percentage of rates that it collects the Council interprets this as meaning that people are not facing too much hardship. Our concern is that this is a potential time bomb with people managing so far by borrowing money and tightening their belts. However, the time will come when many will have maximised their allowable borrowing, have made all the economies they can and will then start to spiral into debt. This is certainly the message that we are getting from the CAB. Please note that if you are experiencing debt problems, that the CAB in St Neots gives specialist debt advice on a Tuesday. You do need to make an appointment.

So following on from our comments about the County budget last month there was in fact some good news. After listening to the public and opposition groups, the County earmarked an extra £500,000 to invest in transport improvements. A cross-party group of Councillors will be formed to decide how this money is spent. In addition an extra £200,000 will also be put into Children’s Centres, £200,000 into mental health and savings targets in older people/learning and physical disability services will be reduced by £300,000. The mild winter so far means the Council has not spent all of its gritting budget, meaning £200,000 can be held back and put into next year’s budget. An innovation grant of £28,000 is also being created to encourage innovative new ways of providing public transport services.

The extra cash – nearly £1.5m in total – has come from £1m money saved from capital building projects and £500,000 from improved Council tax collection rates. So that’s all quite positive, we felt!

New South Cambs Furniture

You may remember that South Cambs spent £45k on replacing perfectly good furniture last year at the same time as axing a load of grants. Bridget has enquired - at Full Council - as to how the business plan underpinning the enormous expense on new furniture was progressing and the answer, in a word, was Dismally. The much-vaunted income from renting out the refurbished Chamber had apparently not materialised; but although the question had been submitted in advance actual figures were not forthcoming; perhaps that would have been just too embarrassing.