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News release from: 06/02/2024

Cabinet backs draft Budget and Business Plan

Cabinet backs draft Budget and Business Plan

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s plans for the year ahead include further and more convenient support for residents – including the Council’s first public-facing use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Cabinet Members met today (Tuesday 6 February) to discuss the draft Budgets and Business Plan for the upcoming 12 months and said that the budget was being set against a challenging background of rising population, increasing costs due to inflation and a national homelessness crisis.

Cabinet members fully backed both documents, which now go forward to be discussed by all Councillors at a Full Council meeting on 27 February. The plans would retain the Council as one of the lowest taxing authorities in the country, with a £5 per year increase for the average band D home, equivalent to a below inflation rise of around 3%.

A budget of £519,000 is being proposed as part of the Council’s continued Digital Transformation work – which aims to make services even more accessible to residents in a way that works for them. If agreed at the Full Council meeting, this will fund the software and staffing costs needed to make it easier for customers to get the help they need.

This will include the first public-facing use by the Council of AI in providing direct support to residents. Customers using the website or telephoning the Council outside of normal office hours will be able to have their questions answered by AI - which will also be able to text them further information. This use of AI is expected to go live with the Council by the end of the next financial year. Meanwhile, a continued programme to update the Council’s Revenues and Benefits functions will help improve customer service in this key area, through more convenient access to support.

Elsewhere, the Council’s investment in community facilities in the new town of Northstowe is planned to continue, after plans for the Phase One Community Centre were approved in December last year. The additional funding allocated to the project by the Council allowed for an ultra-sustainable building to be designed to meet the changing demands of the community as grows. The Centre is designed using Net Zero principles - with heating provided by a ground-source heat pump, and the striking roof profile delivers both a landmark design at the entrance to the town and maximises the solar panel capacity.

The quality of the design has attracted considerable interest by firms who want to build it – and the Council expects to award a contract in early March with a view to delivering the completed building by Spring 2026. This follows the recent official opening of Northstowe’s sports pavilion and modern, high-quality sports pitches, which the Council has also delivered.

Greater Cambridge Shared Waste, a partnership between South Cambridgeshire District and Cambridge City Councils, plans to continue its service where residents can drop off small household electrical items at pink banks. The brightly coloured banks are suitable for collecting most small items which have a plug or a battery, including phones, toys, kettles and many more. Since a trial began two years ago, over 50 tonnes of small electrical items have been collected for recycling.

Greater Cambridge Shared Waste also continues its path to decarbonise the fleet of bin lorries. With three electric lorries already collecting recycling and waste from residents, a fourth is expected to enter service within the next few months. The decarbonisation plans also include the continued use of hydrotreated vegetable oils for some of the fleet.

With the focus on the Cambridge area nationally, maintaining its investment and support to Greater Cambridge Shared Planning means that the Council can continue to deploy its own expert “Supersquad” to engage with and challenge the Government’s recently established “Cambridge Delivery Group”. The Planning Service, which is also shared with Cambridge City Council, is already supporting Councillors to have their say on a range of infrastructure and major planning related projects – at the same time as pressing for resolution of the critical water supply challenges and overseeing the implementation of new biodiversity commitments across the district. The shared service will also be enhancing its web services and online guidance, extending its support for Parish Councils on planning matters and will continue its commitment to community engagement – including through further development of its award-winning youth engagement programme.    

Also amongst the plans for the next year, the Council plans to use its upcoming private sector housing stock condition survey, due for completion in the summer, to identify any privately rented properties which may not be up to standard.

Cllr Bridget Smith, Leader of the South Cambridgeshire District Council

Council Leader, Cllr Bridget Smith, commented: “I am incredibly proud of what we are delivering for residents – be it the wonderful new sports facilities at Northstowe, more new, modern and energy efficient Council homes or our innovative support during the cost-of-living crisis. Once again, we have exciting ambitions for the year ahead. At the forefront of our plans is making it even more convenient and efficient for residents to interact with us and in turn for us to do our very best to support them. We’re also of course looking at ways to further support local business - small and large – and I am looking forwards to debating all these plans with all our Councillors later this month.”

The Council only retains around 7.6% of the Council Tax it collects, with the rest being passed on to other organisations who provide key services to the public.

With price inflation remaining at around double the Bank of England target of 2%, a £5 per year increase, or 3.1%, in Council Tax for the average band D home is being proposed to ensure essential frontline services continue to be delivered effectively. The proposed rise would see the average band D home charge for South Cambridgeshire District Council become £170.31 per year. This is an increase of around 10p per week. This rise would continue to maintain the Council’s position in the lowest 25% of taxing District Councils in the country.

Councillor John Williams

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Lead Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr John Williams, said: “We’re a financially sound Council, as highlighted in the recent independent Corporate Peer Challenge. We have a track record of a balanced financial strategy, coupled with prudent financial management and robust investments. But times remain tough for everyone, and councils are no exception as we deal with continued rising costs. It’s important to remember that we only retain a very small amount of the Council Tax we collect; most of it gets passed on to other authorities. We have an ambitious Transformation programme to make the very best use of every pound that we receive.”

Elsewhere, to maintain, let and build its own Council homes, the authority has a separate Housing Revenue Account – a ringfenced account which has its own budget plans and targets. Some highlights include:

  • To deliver 75 new Council homes for rent and shared ownership – the Council has around 5,600 homes for rent.
  • Over £1million proposed to be spent on improving the insultation and heating for existing Council housing.
  • More than £500,000 to be spent on services to prevent homelessness.

In order to maintain the Council’s housing stock to a high standard, and to build more Council houses, Council rents are having to raise by 7.7%. The Council cannot subsidise its housing from Council Tax income.

Cllr John Batchelor

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Lead Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr John Batchelor, added: “We take great pride in our Housing service – whether it be the modern, energy-efficient new Council homes that we continue to deliver across the district, our focus on preventing homelessness or continuing our retrofit programme to reduce the carbon footprint of homes. Our overriding aim is to provide good quality, sustainable homes that are affordable to live in and where people choose to live.”

The budget and Business Plan proposals will be discussed further at the Full Council meeting on Tuesday 27 February.