Stratford-on-Avon District Council is now entering the budget setting phase and a great deal of work has gone into reviewing the finances for the year to come.
This year Central Government, within their spending calculation assumed that council tax would increase by £5, which equates to a 3.6% increase. The District Council's Cabinet has recommended an increase of £5 in line with this assumption.
That equates to an increase of less than 10p per week on a Band D property.
Stratford-on-Avon District Council has been able to maintain a relatively low level of council tax as a result of years of prudent financial management, whilst retaining reserves, which will be used in future years.
This year's budget proposals include:
- Financial Support for the Fred Winter Project - £60,000 ongoing
A partnership of public, private and voluntary sector agencies in Stratford-upon-Avon has been established to create an innovative new solution to rough sleeping and homelessness. The Fred Winter Housing Plus Centre will offer, for the first time, high quality affordable accommodation and 'joined up' services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
- UBUS Contract Extension - £109,000 ongoing
The Cabinet resolved to support the enhanced scheme, and to include the costs in the revenue budget from 2020/21 onwards.
The Funding is split into two elements, approximately £89,000 which contributes towards Warwickshire County Council vehicle procurement and the balance £20,000 which will fund the booking centre and registration provision which, subject to the outcome of this Growth Bid, will be tendered following confirmation that the 2020/21 budget includes sufficient allocation of funding.
- Core Strategy Review - £1.6m one-off
The Council has committed to reviewing, and replacing if necessary, its current adopted Core Strategy from summer 2020. The Council is obliged to assess whether its strategic policies require reviewing every five years, and if it concludes that they are out of date, to then commence a review of those policies.
The current Core Strategy was adopted in July 2016 and as such, will require a review assessment to be complete by July 2021 at the latest. It would be prudent not to wait until then in order to ensure that policies could be replaced in good time. In any event, the Portfolio Holder has expressed a desire to commence a review of the Core Strategy, irrespective of whether the policies require reviewing. Such an approach would enable the Council to fully embed climate change mitigation and adaptation into the Council's planning policies.
- Housing Register IT Platform Upgrade - £35,000 one-off
The current Abritas platform supporting the Council's Housing Advice, Homelessness & Homelessness Prevention, Housing Register and Choice Based Lettings IT Platform has been in place since 2007 when the Council joined the Home Choice Plus Partnership (HCPP) in a sub-regional housing register and allocations scheme. The IT underpinning this can now be further developed to enhance customer interaction, offering self-serve functionality, and eliminating human validation and data entry.
- Waste Contract Renewal - Consultancy Advice - £50,000 0ne-off
In order to support the process of re-tendering the Council's major contracts, a suitably qualified and experienced external consultant is required to lead on the procurement of new waste collection, recycling and street cleansing contracted services. The consultant will be required to provide the expertise and market knowledge which cannot be supplied by internal resources. The selected consultant will be part of the project team and a member of the evaluation panel for the new contract.
- Climate Change Strategy Funding - £0.5m one-off
At its meeting in July 2019, the Council declared: A Climate Emergency as a pledge to take local action to contribute to national carbon neutral targets through the development of their own practices and policies with an aim to be carbon-neutral in Stratford District by 2030. The Council also agreed to ask the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to convene a task and finish working group to consult with and invite input from representatives of local environmental groups, residents and businesses, and report back to The Cabinet and Council by January 2020. In order to facilitate the work and proposals of the Climate Change Task & Finish Group, a one-off budget has been included.
Cllr Tony Jefferson, Leader of Stratford District Council says: "No one likes to pay more tax. However, we are between a rock and a hard place. Our funding is being cut, we are constrained in our ability to raise council tax and we have to demonstrate that we are financially sustainable in the medium term. District Councils are at the bottom of the list when government funding is distributed - over the next few years we're losing big chunks of our revenue. District Councils just don't have the revenue leavers to pull. Of the council tax we collect we keep only 7.8%. We are taking a strategic and prudent view given the funding issues we face. We have taken some tough decisions this year and we think that we will have to take more tough decisions next year. We believe that what we are doing represents the least worse option."
Following The Cabinet's decision, the proposals will now go out for consultation - a questionnaire will be sent to the Council's Citizens' Panel, seeking views on a range of issues including Council Tax and the proposed budget.
The results of the consultation will be considered by The Cabinet at the next meeting before the final budget recommendations are made to Council on Monday 24 February.