Budget recommended to Council
Senior councillors have backed plans to protect Council services by continuing to generate hundreds of thousands of pounds of income to plug the gap left behind by cuts to funding received from Government.
Councillors said at a meeting of Cabinet today (Thursday 9 February) that innovation and brave investments in business opportunities over recent years was delivering returns to help protect services local people rely on.
To balance South Cambridgeshire District Council’s budget, in the region of £2 million of savings or new income must be generated by the end of 2021/22.
Councillors backed proposals at the meeting to increase council tax by £5 per year for the average band D home – the equivalent of just 10 pence per week. Without an increase even more savings would be needed or services cut.
The Council’s budget report confirmed an annual income of around £600,000 generated from the Council’s property company – Ermine Street Housing – has been achieved one year ahead of its business plan, and Council bosses reiterated their desire to continue to grow the business to help protect front line services.
Alongside the Council’s housing company, it has already moved to make services more commercial. This included a new fee structure for planning so larger developments are paying for the services they are consuming and using Council staff to collect business rate debts so fees are also retained.
The Council has also said that it will look to invest in commercial property to generate a fivefold increase in the income they are currently generating on cash reserves.
A further £300,000 cash injection in the Council’s planning service is also proposed for 2017/18 to help continue to improve the service. Over the last five months the Council has seen a huge improvement in performance – determining 91% of major and 79% on non-major applications within the timescales set by government.
Investment is also planned to continue to help business and residents carry out more transactions online and a further £52,000 is budgeted for community groups to bid for as part of the Council’s community chest scheme.
South Cambridgeshire District Council will also continue its plan of running reserves down over the next five years. This will mean savings and income can be delivered over a longer period of time.
The budget also sets out a 1% cut to rent for Council tenants next year - this follows a 1% cut in 2016/17, with further annual 1% cuts implemented for the next two years. The cuts in rent are in line with the policy implemented nationally by Government.
Although new Council homes are still expected to be built in the next ten years, the reductions in rental income means that a new build programme cannot be sustained over a longer period as previously planned.
Over the last six years the Council has already delivered savings in the region of £6 million to meet reductions to the funding received from Government to provide local services. This core grant is being cut again this year with no further revenue support grant payable to the Council after 2017/18.
The proposed annual Council tax charge for a band D home in 2017/18 will be £135.31.
Cllr Simon Edwards, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s cabinet member for finance, said: “I am pleased my Cabinet colleagues have recommended the budget to Council. It continues the strategy we have had in place for a few years that will see us generate our own income to help keep council tax low and protect services. The task we face is huge as the money we receive has been cut heavily. We have taken brave decisions over recent years to invest in commercial opportunities – such as our housing company – and without that foresight we would not be able to provide the quality and range of services we do now for our communities.
“It is important to remember that the Council Tax we collect from local people is only a proportion of the money we need to provide the services we currently do and if we did not increase it this year we would be storing up real problems for the future when bigger cuts would be needed to balance the books.”
The budget will now be presented to a meeting of Full Council on Thursday 23 February.
Budget recommended by Cabinet: