27/11/18: Breckland councillors discuss proposed 2019-20 budget

27 November 2018

Council members have heard that Breckland Council 'remains in a secure financial position... with no dependency on reserves' and that the organisation is predicting a balanced budget for the coming years, despite 'the unprecedented challenges of reduced funding'.

At a meeting of Breckland's Cabinet today (27 November), councillors discussed the council's proposed budget for 2019-20 and future financial strategies. If the plans are adopted next year, this would include significant investments in local communities over the coming 12 months, but also a small rise in council tax (details below).

Members heard that the council is currently predicting a balanced budget through until 2022-23 and that the council is putting in place financial plans to safeguard local services ahead of 'unprecedented levels of change' in national funding, which are expected from 2020-21. This, councillors said, emphasised the importance of Breckland Council being as financially self-sufficient as possible, to minimise the impact of national funding changes on local services.

Cllr Philip Cowen, Breckland's Executive Member for Finance and Delivery, commented: "I'm very proud of our strong financial position, which has been achieved through careful planning and not being overly reliant on a single source of funding. The council has a history of creating its own income through investment and having a commercial mind-set, which means we don't have to depend on central government funding."

Councillors discussed how, as part of the budget proposals, a significant pot of money was being earmarked for community-based initiatives next year. This would be achieved by diverting central government funding that Breckland receives as a result of local housing growth into a community pot, rather than using it to pay for core services. In 2019-20, this approach is expected to see £1.5m ring-fenced for community schemes and comes after £1.7m was set-aside for similar schemes this year (2018-19).

"We are not relying on central government funding to deliver local services as this means we can protect our services from any future drops in national funding, while also enabling us to put any money we do receive towards community-based initiatives and projects instead," added Cllr Cowen.

At the meeting, which was held in Watton, Cabinet members discussed how the council expects to spend around £28m on capital projects between 2019-20 and 2022-23, of which around £20m will come from national sources as a result of successful bids for funding as well as local sources. Of the £8m being invested by Breckland, around £5m will be spent on new bin collection vehicles and the creation of a new Health Hub in Dereham, though these investments are expected to be largely recovered over the coming years.

However, in order to maintain the council's strong financial position, the council revealed plans to increase district council tax by £4.95 for a Band D property from April 2019. This would mean council tax for a Band D property would rise to £88.83 for the full year, up the equivalent of 1.4p per day.

Despite the proposed rise, district council tax in Breckland is expected to remain the lowest in the country and, as most residents (77%) live in Bands A-C homes - including 54% of people in the district who live in the lower-priced Band A or B homes - the majority of residents would see their tax go up by a smaller amount. For example, people living in a Band A home would be charged £59.22 for 2019-20.

Cllr Cowen commented: "This small rise would mean we can continue to deliver good services to local residents and businesses. As we generate income from a range of sources, including the council's commercial investments and business taxes, our residents get out far more out than they put in. As part of these proposals, the vast majority of our residents would be charged less than £90 a year for their district council tax while the council spends the equivalent of around £500 per household each year."

Having now been discussed by Cabinet, the draft budget will shortly be made available on the council's website for people to read and comment on. Local residents and business-owners are invited to submit their comments between 1 December and 1 January. These will then be taken into consideration before the draft budget is discussed by full council in February 2019.

Last updated: 07/12/2018 16:01:06