County’s share of council tax bill frozen for another year

WEST Sussex County Council’s share of council tax bills for 2012/13 will be frozen for the second year running, following today’s (Friday February 17) budget meeting at County Hall.

In his budget speech Michael Brown, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, said the decision ‘reflects our continuing belief that wherever possible monies available to hard pressed residents should be left in their pockets and purses and not taken away in tax by us’.

He also said the county council had achieved ‘down to the last penny’ its £38 million savings target for 2011/12, and, although he was presenting a budget without ‘frippery or extravagance’ it contained ‘absolutely no new cuts’.

Today’s budget means that the average Band D taxpayer will continue paying £1,161.99 for services delivered by the county council.

But, 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.

The county council is having to reduce its spending by £79 million over three years largely driven by reduced government grants.

Mr Brown said the £503 million revenue budget for the next financial year took into account the savings target of £21.5 million set for 2012/13.

Looking at the national picture he said that local government might have to look for more economies in future years.

He said: “Low growth means lower business profits and lower employment rates. Both translate into lower tax proceeds for the Treasury, and in November the Chancellor announced that the nation’s books would not now be balanced until 2017.

“That means we must expect further reductions in Government support. It would be rash, and foolhardy, to assume that, like the NHS and International Aid, local government budgets will be protected - they simply will not.”

The county council’s capital programme includes the £15 million infrastructure and development package to boost the local economy announced at the end of last year, including investment in super-fast broadband.

Mr Brown also announced that the value of a plan to accelerate a series of capital building schemes, such as new classrooms for schools, would now be worth £55 million instead of £35 million as previously announced.

He said it meant that construction and other contracts ‘can be awarded now, when they are desperately needed, rather than in three or four years time, when hopefully the economic omens will be much brighter’.

He added: “Some of the larger projects being brought forward cannot readily be split or sub-divided. When they are accelerated, they are accelerated as a whole, or not at all. The consequence of this is that the originally planned £35m acceleration will in fact be £55m.

“Adding that to the £15m Infrastructure Fund, it means that over the next three years £70m will be directly invested into the county’s infrastructure.”

He told the Council -

“We could hardly live in more difficult or challenging economic times, but I can assure you that this budget is designed to -

Help us live within our means

Borrow sparingly

Face up to whatever new austerity measures central government may demand of us

Help stimulate the local economy

Continue to lower the real burden of taxation across West Sussex.”