Council tax increases planned

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Council tax may increase by around six per cent after Rother District Council (RDC) announces a consultation on an increase of nearly two per cent, while East Sussex County Council (ESCC) says it is considering the maximum increase allowed (of nearly four per cent) – mainly because of central government cuts to funding for care services. The Police and Crime Commissioner is also considering an increase, again because of cuts to the funding from central government.

Rother residents are being asked to have their say on budget proposals which could see an RDC council tax increase for the first time in six years as RDC is considering raising council tax by 1.94 per cent to help offset savings required due to continued Government funding cuts.

The proposal would see the district council’s element of the council tax bill go up by £3.13 a year – or 26p a month – for a Band D property, generating an extra £115,200. The council has seen a reduction in Government funding of £4.6 million, or 68 per cent, since 2011, with savings made as a result including cutting staffing costs by £2.6 million.

However, faced with having to make a further £3 million savings by 2020, the authority says increasing council tax could help towards protecting some frontline services, although the scale of the funding cuts means considerable savings would still have to be made. Residents are being asked to take part in a public consultation on the proposals, which runs until Tuesday, February 16.

Cllr Lord Ampthill, cabinet member for finance, resources and value for money, said: “We’ve made huge savings and reduced staffing levels dramatically over the past five years, while managing to freeze council tax. We’ve done everything possible to cut costs, but we’re facing a continued funding squeeze, and raising council tax could be a way of ensuring we can continue to deliver the level of services people expect.

“Rother has the lowest level of council tax in East Sussex, and we expect this to continue to be the case, whether or not there is an increase.

“Asking people to pay more of their hard-earned money is not something we take lightly, and before we make a decision, we’re very keen to hear what people in Rother have to say.”

The proposed district council budget of £12.3 million includes savings from 2015-16 of more than £235,000 in running costs and £350,000 saved as the result of the switch to a new leisure services contract which now costs the taxpayer nothing.

The results of the consultation will be taken into account when the budget proposals are debated at meetings of cabinet and full council next month. People can view the proposals and have their say online at www.rother.gov.uk/

Anyone who would like to ask questions or submit detailed answers can do so by emailing consultations@rother.gov.uk or writing to Draft Budget Consultation, Service Manager, Finance and Welfare, Rother District Council, Town Hall, Bexhill, East Sussex, TN39 3JX.

At the same time political leaders in East Sussex have united to voice to Prime Minister David Cameron their ‘significant concerns’ over Government funding cuts.

In a letter to the Prime Minister sent on behalf of all political group leaders, ESCC leader Cllr Keith Glazier said the cuts the authority was facing would ‘significantly reduce the quality of life for many people in East Sussex.

The letter has been sent as the council revealed it was considering raising council tax by 3.99 per cent in the budget for the new financial year, to help offset some of the pressure on adult social care services. The authority has saved more than £78 million since 2010 but is facing a further £70 to £90 million savings by April 2019, including £40 million from its adult social care budget.

The six group leaders told the Prime Minister the Government’s approach to local government did not reflect the ‘varying needs’ of different areas, with East Sussex’s ageing population making it particularly vulnerable to cuts.

They said there was ‘misunderstanding’ from ministers over suggested ways councils could make savings, some of which were ‘not realistic’, and the cuts were compounded by the way changes to funding were announced ‘very late in the day’ and without consultation.

Cllr Glazier said: “The fact that leaders of all parties have put their names to this letter shows that this is an issue which transcends politics. We have done everything possible to ensure we bear our share of the burden of reducing the national deficit, and produce a balanced and responsible budget, but the savings we are now having to make will place a heavy burden on some of our residents.

We’re calling on the Government to acknowledge the impact of funding cuts, particularly on social care authorities, to work more closely with local councils and to adopt a fairer approach to the way it allocates funding.”

Next week (Tuesday, January 26), the council’s cabinet will discuss a proposal to increase council tax by 3.99 per cent, including a two per cent ‘social care levy’ approved by the Government, which must be spent on adult social care services.

The increase, equivalent to 92p a week extra for a band D council tax payer, would generate an extra £4.7 million. This would allow the council to meet extra financial pressures and to save £1.9 million of adult social care funding which would otherwise be removed.

This would preserve funding for a number of services, including some of those which support people with mental health issues, the homeless and young people with complex needs. However, the size of the funding shortfall means many other services will reduce, be provided in new ways or cease altogether.

Cllr Glazier said: “The money we’d raise by increasing council tax would not alter the fact we’re facing very severe financial pressures, but it would allow us to preserve some valued services.

“Asking people to pay more of their hard earned money is not something we take lightly, which is why we’ll be looking very carefully at this proposal before any decision is made.”

The budget proposals and the council plan for 2016-17 will be discussed at cabinet on Tuesday, January 26 2016 before being put to a vote of the full council on Tuesday, February 9 2016. [Sources : Rother District Council and East Sussex County Council]

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