Council to discuss INITIAL budget proposals

The Council’s initial plans will be discussed by at Overview and Scrutiny Committee this evening

Braintree District Council has said there may well be “no other option” but to consider the possibility of increasing its share of council tax next year to help it meet a £1.2 million funding gap.

The Council will be waiting to hear what is announced by the Chancellor in the Budget today (Wednesday, November 22) and the Council’s initial plans will be discussed by members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee this evening (November 22). From there members of Cabinet will meet on Monday, November 27, to discuss Council finances and its plans to address the shortfall created following changes to the way local government is funded. 
 
Like all local authorities, Braintree District Council will not receive any central government funding by 2020 – a reduction of £2.5 million (44 per cent) since 2015/16. The amount collected in Council Tax is not enough alone to pay for the running of the frontline council services. 

Braintree District Council, which was nationally acknowledged earlier in the year for its Innovation in Finance, has already found £12 million through savings and income generation since 2010 and it is now stepping up its digital, commercialisation and investments opportunities in order to bridge the financial gap. 

Leader Cllr Graham Butland said: “We want to keep residents’ council tax bills down as much as possible. We run extremely efficiently and we work innovatively to increase income through investments but this is the biggest shake up of local government funding the country has ever seen and there are still difficult decisions to make. 

“We have a £1.2m budget gap to fill over the next 3 years and we may have no other option than to ask local taxpayers for a very small increase in council tax to pay for the services that improve health, homes, jobs and infrastructure. Our initial budget proposals include plans to increase council tax by 2.92% - which would mean the average band D household would pay £174.42 per year for services provided by the council, an increase of £4.95 per year.”

 
Initial budget proposals also includes a potential increase in short term car parking charges for up to 1 hour and between 1 hour and 3 hours by 10p and 20p respectively. Longer stay charges, which have not been increased since April 2011, are proposed to be increased by 50p. A 10 per cent increase in season ticket prices is also proposed. No change is proposed to the 10p after 3 pm initiative as this encourages shoppers into the towns at a time when retailers have told us trade is less busy. We continue to strike a balance between providing affordable parking with generating the income needed to maintain safe and effective car parks.

The car parks affected in Braintree are:

  • George Yard Multi Storey.
  • Manor Street, Victoria Street.
  • Causeway House (weekends only). 
  • Station Approach.

The car parks affected in Witham are:

  • Newlands Drive.
  • Mill Lane.
  • Mayland Road (weekends only) - Proposal is to increase weekday permits as well as weekend Pay and Display tariffs.
  • Whitehorse Lane.
  • Easton Road.
  • Lockrams Lane.  

Cllr Tom Cunningham, Cabinet Member for Economic Development at Braintree District Council, said: 

“We are considering increasing car parking changes from next year for the first time in three years for short stay and the first time in six years for long stay. We will continue to look at this over the coming months as we prepare to set the final budget in February 2018.

“We have to strike a balance between providing affordable parking and generating the income needed to maintain safe and effective car parks. There is no such thing as free parking. Maintaining car parks costs money and over the past 3 years we have invested nearly £ 1 million on improvements to our car parks – that’s redecorating, CCTV, resurfacing , re-lining, making sure they are Disability Discrimination Act Compliant and improving signage and more. We are pleased that all our car parks are accredited with the Park Mark Standard, which is a national standard for safe car parks. 

“We will maintain the very popular 10p after 3pm concession for the 8th consecutive year and this encourages shoppers into the towns at a time when retailers have told us trade is less busy. We also introduced free parking on Bank Holidays.

“We have also put in a lot of work into our high streets and there is a great buzz around Christmas, our Christmas markets and Reindeer Trail and I know Halstead and Witham Town Councils have lots of festive events on the horizon too. To find out more reasons to come into our town centres in the Braintree District visit www.braintree.gov.uk/christmas and after Christmas we will continue to work with businesses to create destinations fit for 21st century town centres.”

The Council will also consider stopping the annual door to door delivery of refuse/recycling collection calendars from 2018/19. The online calendars are already widely used and the Council will work to encourage more people to check online where possible. This will save the Council £10,000 and links into its wider Digital Strategy. 

It is proposed to continue with the Money Advice Service, provided through Citizens Advice, for claimants facing difficulties paying their council tax and to also continue with the Exceptional Hardship Fund which provides financial support to claimants following a recommendation from Citizens Advice.
 
The final budget and council tax proposals will be presented to Full Council in February 2018 and if the initial budget proposals are adopted, Braintree District Council will have to find £724,000 in future years before 2019/20.