Pandemic sends council tax upwards

Not all the press releases that come through my email portal are of vital interest to us all – but this one is. It concerns the Council’s proposed budget plans and how much more you are going to have to pay in council tax in the coming financial year following on from the economic effects of the Pandemic

For a Band D property the proposed rise would mean a combined Council Tax increase of £72.69 a year or £1.40 a week.

I will let you read through the press release in its entirety……….

“Despite the turbulent financial impacts caused by the pandemic over the past year Bath and North East Somerset Council is proposing new investment to tackle the Climate and Ecological Emergency, improve local transport and help the local economy recover.

The council’s proposed spending plans, which also include a general Council Tax increase of 1.99% and a 3% increase in the Adult Social Care Precept, which is ring-fenced to support Adult Social Care, will go before the cabinet on Thursday 11 February. The plans will then be presented to Full Council for decision on Tuesday 23 February. For a Band D property the proposed rise would mean a combined Council Tax increase of £72.69 a year (4.99%) or £1.40 per week.

The council continues to face a very significant financial challenge due to the continued impact of coronavirus, particularly as a result of the loss of income from heritage and parking services as well as significant losses from commercial rents on the properties the council owns.

These challenges were set out in a series of public webinars held in December streamed live on YouTube which have now been watched by more than 300 people. The budget proposals include £15.24m just to deal with the pressures that the Covid pandemic has had on Council services such as lost income.

Councillor Richard Samuel, Cabinet member for Resources and Deputy Leader of the Council said: “My top priority has been to stabilise the council’s finances whilst allocating funds to support the council’s highest priorities. Setting a balanced budget and ensuring sound finances is essential to the delivery of our priorities.

We’ve had to take some difficult decisions but that means we can provide real investment in improving people’s lives including creating cleaner, greener communities with the introduction of liveable neighbourhoods, helping the local economy recover, investing in our high streets, protecting the most vulnerable by responding to increased demand for adult and children’s services, and taking action to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies.”

He added “This is not a normal budget set in normal times. It is an emergency budget to get the council’s budgets back on track without imposing too high a burden on residents. Full recovery will take at least five years because that is how long I expect it to take for the council’s income to return to pre-pandemic levels.

The benefits of taking rapid action during 2020, when we implemented a financial recovery plan with up to £20m of in-year savings, have borne fruit and I expect the council’s current year budget to balance with no drawdown from reserves. This is despite broken promises from our government about full compensation for local government losses which mean we have lost millions of pounds of income to support out local services.”

A key element in this year’s proposed budget are plans to channel capital investment into key areas that deliver the Corporate Strategy. These include:

  • investment in transport schemes to create liveable neighbourhoods and extend resident parking zones, including:
  • £2.2m for Liveable Neighbourhoods to promote healthier, more sustainable communities and reduce car usage
  • A £5.7m Highways Maintenance Programme for 2021/22
  • A £1.407m Transport Improvement Programme for 2021/22 to provide a range of local schemes to manage traffic and help improve road safety
  • Spending £3.6m to repair Cleveland Bridge
  • Allocating £561k to active travel schemes to encourage more walking and cycling. The council is currently consulting on three schemes, two of which will use funding from the government’s Active Travel Fund. Also being progressed are proposals for the “scholars’ way” Combe Down to Ralph Allen walking/cycling route
  • Continued investment to support the most vulnerable by spending more to support vulnerable adults and young people. A total of £15.5m is allocated for school places next year, including proposals for the expansion of St Mark’s Secondary School and an increase in the size of St Keyna Primary School to meet demand generated by new housing in the Keynsham area.
  • continued commitment to secure action to address the climate and ecological emergency, including: 
  • Two new Renewable Energy Funds totalling £1.9m for renewable energy projects and to retrofit the council’s own energy plant and equipment
  • Support for the natural environment through the £5.11m Bath River Line project– a 10km walking/cycling connection between Newbridge and Batheaston/Bathampton. The scheme will improve biodiversity, landscaping and green spaces
  • Provision of £600k for an ‘energy capture’ scheme at the Roman Baths
  • £1.5m allocated for Two Rivers Primary School to provide a local contribution to ensure delivery to Passivhaus Environmental standards.
  • Introduction of a new CO2 permit charging scheme for residents’ parking zones.

Additional schemes will also be worked up to provide biodiversity and environmental net gain. A Somer Valley Investment Plan will also support the Climate and Ecological Emergency through potential renewable energy investment and support for a resilient rural economy.

  • help for the local economy to recover from the impact of the pandemic, working with partners to rebalance the economy and reduce our area’s dependence on retail, hospitality and tourism, including:
  • A total of £2.8m investment in our city, towns and local High Streets, drawing in funding including “Love Our High Streets” grants and WECA Recovery Funds. We will invest in Bath City Centre Renewal and work will progress to support the Milsom Quarter in responding to changing shopping patterns.
  • A new Twerton Regeneration Delivery Plan will be progressed including support for a “15 Minute Neighbourhood”.
  • We will pursue Midsomer Norton High Street Renewal, alongside continuation of funding for the current Keynsham High Street Renewal project. In addition, our Somer Valley Enterprise Zone aims to provide more localised employment and help keep spend local.
  • Plans to introduce a Commercial Estate Improvements and Regeneration Fund, as well as an immediate investment of £800k in our commercial estate.

To support people and businesses to develop the skills needed for our increasingly digital world we’re also working with Bath College, University of Bath and Bath Spa University on iSTART (Science, Technology, Arts, Research, Training). 

The council also plans to invest in its Preparing for the Future programme to modernise the council with a focus on improved asset management and flexible working. Office costs will be reduced through letting out council-owned office space in Bath and by increasing capacity and maximising the use of Keynsham Civic Centre.

To help manage any unforeseen costs incurred as a result of the pandemic the council also plans to set aside a special £5m Covid contingency reserve.

Councillor Dine Romero, Leader of the Council said: “Last year we saw a massive drop in income due to Covid-19. Headed for a multi-million pound overspend we worked incredibly hard to secure a remarkable turnaround in our finances to balance the books.

“This year the financial challenge will continue as we lose income from Heritage Services that historically the council used to fund services. That, combined with a rising demand for adult and children’s services, means we are faced with a predicted 2021/22 budget shortfall of around £20m. As a result, we’ve looked carefully at our spending, we’ve identified savings of £8.48m and propose drawing from our reserves to enable a smooth transition from the impact of Covid on Council finances. 

“No one wants to raise Council Tax, particularly after such a tough year for everyone, but if we are to prepare for the future, deliver on our commitment to improve people’s lives and protect the most vulnerable in our community we have no choice. Investment in infrastructure including the Bath Quays programme is also key to supporting the area’s recovery from the impacts of coronavirus and helping to ensure future prosperity.”

Cabinet will consider the report at its meeting on Thursday 11 February at 6.30pm. It will also consider a pilot ‘good causes’ fund to help local charity, community and voluntary groups to reduce inequalities in the area.

The proposed B&NES Community Contribution Fund would be administered by the council but would not be used to supplement council services.  Every penny donated would be used to fund local projects. 

Following cabinet, the budget report will go to the Council’s Budget & Council Tax meeting on Tuesday 23 February at 6.30pm. Both meetings will be live-streamed on the council’s Youtube channel.”

The budget papers can be found here:

For more information on the council’s Climate Emergency programme visit: www.bathnes.gov.uk/climate-emergency