South Kesteven District Council’s budget for the next financial year has been approved.
Below is an overview of the key aspects, including a rent rise, tax freeze, new community fund, and investment in housing.
* Council tax frozen but house rents to go up
South Kesteven District Council has approved its budget for 2015/16, which will see council tax frozen and an average increase in council home rent of 3.56 per cent.
The increase will see the average council home rent rise to £80.91 per week, with the maximum being £117.25 and the minimum £53.60.
Garage rents and service charges will both rise by 2.3 per cent. For the second year running, the district’s element of council tax has been frozen, which means the average Band D tax payer will continue to pay £2.45 a week. However as the majority of properties in the district fall into bands A and B, this will be a cost of £1.63 and £1.90 respectively.
In putting forward the proposed budget, leader of SKDC Coun Linda Neal said: “This budget for growth takes into account that changes are continuing to take place in local government funding. We are committed to meeting the challenges ahead and we will need to use every ounce of our resoures wisely.
“We have lost 45 per cent of our funding over the last five years and our response to this has been to make further savings and efficiencies totalling almost £1 million in this year alone. But moving forward this will still not be enough if as expected funding continues to be reduced.”
Coun Neal added: “Whilst the national economy stutters back into life we see no end to the squeeze on local authorities. The government is committed to protecting health, education and overseas aid which means that the lion’s share of public spending reductions may necessarily continue to come from local government. As such we need to aim to be financially self-sufficient by 2020 and we are planning to do this by being rewarded by meeting the government’s goals and enabling new housing and creating new businesses and jobs.”
* Digital future could help authority save £1.4 million with new website
SKDC leader Coun Neal referred to how SKDC are making savings through a switch to digital.
She said: “Digital will give focus whoever is in government and national statistics indicate that by using new technologies the average saving per authority is £1.4 million. We are moving towards this at pace with our new website under construction.”
She praised the success and economic benefit of over £500,000 with last year’s Gravity Fields festival, and confirmed that plans have begun for Gravity Fields 2016.
She added: “The district’s First World War memorial park - Wyndham Park - is marching forward as we work with the park forum to deliver the main project. Heritage Lottery Funding of £117,000 has already been awarded for the initial development phase, and successful submissions of plans to restore the park to its former glory will be rewarded by a further £758,000 for improvements in infrastructure.”
* £300,000 fund set up to help projects
A new £300,000 community fund was approved by the district council.
SKDC chief executive Beverly Agass, explained: “It’s open to parish and town councils, charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises which can show that their project will help support and improve where they live.
“This fund has been set up to support activities and projects which help communities join together to create safer, stronger places to live and work.”
Final details of how people or community groups can apply, and the criteria for approval, will be drawn up by the council’s policy development groups and ratified by the cabinet in the coming weeks.
* £8 million investment will build 80 homes
An £8 million investment to build new council homes has been confirmed as part of the district council’s budget.
The approved investment from the council’s housing reserves will enable the construction of around 80 new council homes.
During the meeting leader of SKDC Coun Linda Neal explained how following the Sustainable Communities Act, the council was no longer required to contribute portions of council home rent and housing benefit into a central government subsidy pot, distributed across the country to support housing. She reported that at the latest point SKDC was paying in the region of £7 to £8 million into this central pot.
Coun Neal said: “With the Sustainable Communities Act there was an opportunity to submit bids to the government about what you might like to see changed. We submitted a bid to try and get rid of that subsidy pot because of the significant amounts of money we were putting into it each year, because clearly if we could retain that we could have done an awful lot more with the housing.”
As a result of the change, there is the potential for the council to draw up to £60 million to build and refurbish homes, as announced when the Housing Revenue Account Business Plan for 2014-19 was approved in the Cabinet’s meeting in September.
Speaking to full council on Monday, Coun Terl Bryant, portfolio holder for good housing, referred to this potential investment of ‘up to £60 million’. He said: “This level of investment is in addition to the improvements to our existing homes.” Over the next year the council is working on a programme of improvements costing over £4 million.
However during the meeting the Labour group put forward five amendments to the budget, including an ‘escalation for social housing building programme’ to raise £68 million for housing through re-financing new council homes in the district over a five year period.
In response Coun Neal said: “The amendment is unnecessary,” and added: “It’s already in the thinking of the administration.”
Labour SKDC leader Coun Charmaine Morgan, who put forward the amendments, said that their ‘more ambitious’ plans could create an estimated 570 new homes.
* No to amendments on fly-tipping fund and free parking
After five amendments put forward by the Labour group were refused, group leader Coun Charmaine Morgan said: “It’s hugely disappointing.”
As well as calling for greater investment in new homes, there was an amendment to increase the discretionary housing payments (DHP) fund from £180,000 to £200,000, from which claims can be made by those struggling with housing costs. The approved budget will instead see the DHP for 2015/16 fall to £171,000.
Other amendments proposed and voted against by the majority were for the provision of a community fly-tipping victim fund of £15,000 for a trial year. Council leader Coun Linda Neal responded that investment was being made to tackle the issue, after identifying that it costs SKDC £1.1 million a year to clear litter and fly-tipping. A £15,000 feasibility study for the provision of a business waste collection service, and a £5,000 study into two hours free parking on a Saturday in Grantham and Stamford, were also voted on and rejected.
During the debate Coun Morgan was criticised by Coun Jeff Thompson for putting forward the amendments ‘at the 11th hour’.