Wiltshire Council: council tax up - cuts continue - but surely not another referendum?
With the start of the new financial year just days away, Wiltshire's council tax bills have been dropping through letterboxes. For the first time in six years Wiltshire Council is increasing its share of the total council tax bill.
One bill shown to Marlborough News Online states plainly that this increase will be two per cent. That would by law trigger a county-wide referendum to decide whether or not the increase is acceptable to all the county's electors. Not another referendum - surely?
Worry not: the increase is actually only 1.99 per cent - as our calculator and the accompanying Council leaflet confirm. Quite why the two per cent is quoted on the bill is a mystery - it is unlikely to be designed to wind-up the Department for Communities and Local Government.
On top of that 1.99 per cent there is the full two per cent the Chancellor of the Exchequer has allowed local authorities to levy to make up in part for his cuts to their social service budgets.
And there are three further 'precepts' - the police come in for the second year running at 1.9 per cent. The fire service has been allowed an especially large 6.7 per cent rise to help with the amalgamation of the Wiltshire and Dorset services.
Finally there are the parish and town councils precepts - for a Band D home in Wiltshire this will average £87.20 a year - which is a 4.86 per cent rise on the 2015-2016 average.
The bill shown to Marlborough News Online gives the total increase as 3.8 per cent. That figure puts this householder's increase above the average increase for council tax bills in England outside London (3.6 per cent), in England including London (3.1 per cent), and in Wales (3.6 per cent.)
The bill we have seen actually includes a reduction in the parish precept - so it looks as though all homes with an increase in town or parish precepts will show percentage rises above - and may be well above - those national averages.
We have not got all the figures to show how Wiltshire Council will be increasing its revenue from services it charges for. While some charges are static, many rise by far more than inflation.
We know, for example, that fees for market stands are going up by 5.97 per cent. The cost of some pest control services goes up by two-thirds, but a bed bug survey stays at £65.
There is no increase in planning application fees, but the cost pre-application advice goes up by ten per cent. And developers will have to pay ten per cent more for naming or numbering new houses.
Most library charges rise by ten per cent. And an annual membership for Shopmobility schemes goes up by 14-plus per cent - but then that is only a rise from £7 to £8. And the scheme's daily hire charge rises by 16-plus per cent - from £3 to £3.50.
Wiltshire Council's budget process for the coming financial year had to find £25million in savings. In her budget speech, the council leader, Baroness Scott told councillors: "And, whilst we are becoming more adept at saving money - each year it gets tougher."
Here are some of the cuts being made - some in very broad terms while details are worked out during the year:
In adult social care for older people, the council plan to make savings of £3,500,000 from a number of measures including a review of care packages. There will also be £100,000 of savings from 'reviewing proposed structure which may require redundancies'.
In Public Health and Public Protection staff reductions will save £300,000 out of a total saving of £582,000. But not all these other savings have been found yet: "A reduction is being found from removing vacancies, specific service reviews and restructures still being discussed" is expected to save £282,000.
However these savings may not now be necessary as the government has increased Wiltshire's ring-fenced Public Health funding for 2016-17 by £2,161,000. This extra funding was only announced in February after the budget papers had been completed.
That formula - "A reduction is being found from removing vacancies, specific service reviews and restructures still being discussed" - appears against savings in a number of departments. Among them a £1,754,000 saving to be found in Operational Children's Services and Children's Social Care.
Another eye-catching area for savings is in Special Educational Needs (SEN) services. Here reviews of 'provision of SEN school transport' and 'of central SEN thresholds and staff' are expected to save £650,000.
'Operational Children's Services - Early Help' is facing savings of £504,000.
A review of the contracts for running children's centres will save a further £375,000 and a review of family support services will save a further £150,000 with other savings still to be identified in these areas.
VisitWiltshire faces another £100,000 cut in its contract to market Wiltshire and specific destinations.
The grant for Area Boards will be cut by £240,000 - at a time when these boards are having more of Wiltshire Council's responsibilities devolved to them.
Grants to arts organisations and museums will be cut by £60,000. On the libraries line of the budget a one-year reduction will be made in the Book Fund - saving £517,000. This will mean a significant reduction in the number of new books bought for the county's libraries.