03/02/20: Proposed Breckland budget sets out plans for service investment, despite falling funding

Breckland councillors have debated plans to adopt a budget for the coming year which avoids service cuts and sets aside money for investment, but will see a small rise in local council tax.

At their meeting today (February 3), Breckland Council's Cabinet heard how the proposed budget for 2020/21 would avoid reducing local services while enabling the council to invest in a number of projects in the future which help the district to grow, leading to new housing and employment opportunities.

However, members also heard how the council was facing significant financial pressure due to national reviews in how local councils are funded, meaning there is uncertainty around exactly how much money the district council will receive from business rates and central government grants going forward.

Consequently, the draft budget report outlined how the district council will seek to minimise its reliance on central government funding to balance its books and instead strive to generate income through other means and make efficiency savings to cut its costs.

For example, Breckland Council has a diverse property portfolio and has won a national award for its commercial approach, receiving close to the amount of income from commercial rents as it does in local council tax. This stream of income is one of many which help to keep council tax low, while other sources of income include optional paid-for services, such as garden waste collections.

The council is also aiming to save around £0.5m in 2020/21 and a further £1.1m in 2021/22 through efficiencies. This includes digitalising services to cut processing costs and procuring less expensive providers for services and systems while maintaining service standards.

In order to maintain the council's good financial position, Breckland plans to increase district council tax by £4.95 for a Band D property from April 2020. This would mean council tax for a Band D property would rise to £93.78 for the full year, the equivalent of 25p per day.

Despite the proposed rise, district council tax in Breckland is expected to remain among the lowest in the country and, as most residents (76%) 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. The majority of households will pay less than £1.60 a week towards district council services, which include bin collections, planning, housing support, licensing and more.

Cllr Philip Cowen, Breckland Council's Executive Member for Finance and Growth, commented: "Breckland Council has a strong reputation for good financial management, which has meant we've been able to invest in services rather than cutting them, while also funding projects which go the extra mile to enhance the lives of our residents and the towns and villages in which they live.

"We understand that any rise in council tax, however small, is rarely welcomed, but these are tough and uncertain times for local government and it is necessary in order for us to continue to provide quality services while also investing in the district.

"Most households will continue to pay less than £90 a year in district council tax, but in return will receive the equivalent of around £770 of services, which we're able to deliver thanks to our diverse revenue streams and prudent budget management."

Having now been discussed and agreed by Cabinet, the draft budget will be put before full council at their meeting on 27 February

Last updated: 03/02/2020 16:40:01