Ashfield District Council blames Government cuts for Council Tax raise

NMAC10-2465-2''Kirkby Ashfield District Council Offices
NMAC10-2465-2''Kirkby Ashfield District Council Offices

Ashfield District Council has blamed Government cuts for raising the rate of Council Tax in its budget this year.

The authority approved its budget for the coming financial year 2016/17, including a rise in council tax - but has pledged no cuts in services to residents.

There will also be a one per cent reduction applied to all the council’s rental properties.

Councillors met on Monday to rubber-stamp their budget, which includes savings of £626,000 in the face of continued reductions in Government funding.

During the meeting, opposition councillors submitted an amendment calling for a zero increase in Council Tax, which was rejected.

Council Tax for 2016/17 for a property in Band D will be increased by 2.93 per cent to £175.46, a £5 increase.

This will mean a rise of £3.33 a year for Band A, or about six pence a week.

Presenting the budget plans, Councillor Jackie James, portfolio holder for corporate service, said the decision was set in the context of the continued significant reduction in Government funding which is being suffered by Ashfield and many other district councils.

Coun James said: “The harshness of the Local Government Financial Settlement has been quite staggering for Ashfield and many shire district councils in less affluent areas. Neither the council nor its residents are to blame for austerity and, ideally, we would not need to be asking them to pay additional Council Tax.”

The council’s spending power will reduce from

£14.1 million to £12.3m between 2015/16 and 2019/20, with Government grants forecasted to reduce by 51 per cent to £6.7m. Between 2010 and 2016, Ashfield has already lost £4.5m of Government funding – Council Tax increases over the same period have generated just £263,000 to offset the losses.

Coun James said the Government had removed the option of a Council Tax Freeze Grant which had offered compensation for authorities.

In the light of this, the Council Tax increase would generate £160,000, which would give more chance of protecting important frontline services in future.

As part of his July 2015 budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced Council House rents would be reduced by one per cent each year for four years.

However, authorities and other housing providers had been given permission to raise rents for the elderly in sheltered courts, the homeless and people who had been victims of domestic violence

The council had decided to reduce rents by one per cent across the board in the council’s housing, because of the inappropriate message it would send if the district’s most vulnerable people were the only tenants who had to pay a rent increase.

Budget reductions and savings announced for this year include: service reviews, £154,000; increasing the staffing vacancy rate to 3 per cent: £75,000 per annum; increase in planning fees, £100,000; commercialisation of pest control, £30,000; increased cemetery fees, £15,000; and sponsorship of council vehicles, £15,000.

Councillor Cheryl Butler, council leader, said: “Once again, the council is facing a severe reduction in its funding from the Government.

“The system for making these cuts is inherently unfair, because councils in more affluent areas than Ashfield are less dependent on Government funding and can generate more Council Tax income.

“Areas more affluent than Ashfield have also received additional Transition Grant and Rural Services Grant since the original announcements in December, but there has been nothing extra for Ashfield.

“The Government has made many positive comments about this financial settlement, but there is nothing positive about your funding being cut in half.

“If the system was fair, we would not have to ask for our residents to pay more Council Tax.

“However, regrettably, the Government has made it abundantly clear that district councils are not their priority.

“For those residents who struggle to pay their Council Tax, our Council Tax Support scheme remains one of the best in the country, and Labour in Ashfield will retain it for the next financial year.

“Under Ashfield Labour’s direction, this council has been highly innovative and resilient over the last few years, and will continue to improve and develop its services, despite this setback. By being more efficient, looking at innovative and more commercial ways of working, we have, and will continue, to protect the services we know our residents value.”