Wiltshire Council proposals for increases in 2016-2017 council tax
After years of making no increase in council tax following their election pledge, Wiltshire Council's ruling Conservatives are proposing the maximum increases for 2016-2017 without triggering a referendum vote on the rise.
There will be a cut in the government funding for 2016-2017 of £16.15million and some council services will cost more than just inflation. Top of that list is adult services (mainly social care) which will see a rise in costs of £7.8million - due mainly to the government's national insurance and the national minimum wage policies.
So Council leaders are proposing a council tax rise of 1.99 per cent - if they went to two per cent or above they would have, under government legislation, to call a county-wide referendum to agree or deny the increase. On top of that they will add in the government suggested levy of two per cent more for social care costs.
Taking into account changes to council tax on empty homes and the new homes coming into occupation and so paying council tax, those increases would produce £11,559,000 extra in council tax revenue. That will still leave the Council to find savings for the next financial year of £25,254,000.
At a well-attended meeting in Devizes (February 1) on the budget proposals, there were several questions about bus subsidies and the consequences of cuts to bus routes.
It was made clear that the current consultation would not lead to any cuts in routes during 2016-2017. Philip Whitehead, the cabinet member for highways and transport, has made it clear he would save money in the coming year if the opportunity arose, but he was under no pressure to do so.
Although rural transport dominated the question and answer session, there were also questions about road repairs, the broad band roll out and about the number of councillors sitting at Trowbridge.
On the latter question it was pointed out that it was something for the government to decide: "They may ask us to reduce the number by ten per cent."
Lady Scott said the council would continue its support for the voluntary sector: "In this county the voluntary sector is very strong." They had been working with organisations to reduce their admin costs.
On the topic of voluntary organisations and their need for some paid staff and admin costs, one member of the audience questioned the policy that Area Boards could only give grants for capital expenditure: "Therefore there's no funding available for salaries - no revenue funding." She did not get a very full answer.
Answering a question about the Council's bid for devolution powers, Councillor Scott said the government's main drivers in deciding whether to grant devolution were more houses, more jobs and better skills. As Wiltshire, she said, ticked those boxes already: "We won't be one of the first in line - it'll be cities first."
Connected to the government's devolution policy, was a question about business rates. Now the Council collects the business rates and sends the money to Whitehall and gets about 32 per cent of it back. In future would the government give back the full amount collected by Wiltshire?
Councillor Scott said that if Wiltshire got 80 per cent of the county's business rates back it would not need a government grant at all. But there seemed to be plans for some 'equalisation' in the re-distribution of business rate money to other areas which would almost certainly mean Wiltshire getting less: "We will not accept that - there's no way we will accept that - we've told the minister that."
The group of cabinet members at the top table looked stoical enough in face of the problems ahead - adding to their woes the government grant would be going down still further in subsequent years. Unsurprisingly they stopped short of bad-mouthing the government and kept their answers focused on the positive.
Increases in parish/town precepts will be on top of that figure.
The budget proposals will be put to the full council meeting on February 23.