West Sussex County Council’s share of council tax bills for 2013/14 will be frozen for the third year in a row, following today’s budget debate at County Hall.
Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources Michael Brown also confirmed that no new cuts are planned for the coming financial year, and that the County Council is on track to reach the target set for the third and final year of the Council’s £79 million savings programme.
The agreed budget means that the average Band D council taxpayer will continue to pay £1,161.99 for services delivered by the County Council. Still to be added to that figure will be the amounts required by individual district or borough councils, Sussex Police, and town or parish councils.
In the Horsham district, the Horsham town special charge and the district council’s council tax have been frozen along with Sussex Police. Some parish council have chosen to increase their precepts.
Mr Brown said: “I am delighted to say that for the third year running we are able to freeze council tax. That means that at 31 March 2014, local taxpayers will in cash terms be paying the same rate of council tax that they were on 1 April 2010.
“Over that four year period of course, we have experienced inflation, and so in real terms, the tax freeze amounts to nine percent. Households across the county continue to struggle to make ends meet and we as a Council have a duty to help them if we possibly can.”
In his budget speech, Michael recognised that the national austerity measures are likely to continue impacting at a local level, saying that local government ‘must expect to shoulder yet more of the financial burden’.
He added: “It came as no surprise that central government support for West Sussex was 6 percent lower than last year. Disappointing but not unexpected, given our track record over the last dozen or so years. The average cut to all councils was only 4.1 percent so this county’s disproportionately harsh treatment continues.
“Over the past four years we responded positively to the financial challenge and unashamedly to put corporate efficiency at the heart of our agenda. We have turned this organisation into one of the best performing upper tier authorities in the land.”
Welcoming the budget, leader of the council Louise Goldsmith said: “The Council has become leaner and more responsive to our residents’ need, partnerships are working well, we are going ahead with the Think Family project which will help families and communities now and in the future, and we are successfully two-thirds of the way through our three-year savings plan, with savings of £59 million achieved and £20 million to go.”
Louise also spoke about future developments such as the Green Deal and in helping businesses to be successful.
She said: “We are creating enterprise, and developing business opportunities through our Green Deal and care market are just two current examples.”
Louise added that the council has a big role to play in helping the economy through influencing, enabling and working with partners.
The revenue budget was set at £535 million for the coming year, and includes the County Council taking on new duties such as the national Troubled Families initiative and public health responsibilities.
The Capital Investment budget was set at £145 million for the coming year, and will include meeting challenges such as providing 3,500 additional school places over the next two years and financing a virtual rebuild of the Millais School in Horsham.
Michael also spoke about new financial risks for the coming year, including the introduction of the new business rates system meaning that if a business fails, then the county council share of business rates will fall.
He said: “Volatility associated with our income is new. In the past, although Government grant has reduced, and reduced drastically, at least we knew at the start of the year how much we would get. That certainty no longer exists. When a new business in West Sussex is created, or an existing one relocates here, our business rate income will rise. But when a business fails or relocates our business rate income falls, and with immediate effect.”