A £50,000 contribution will be pumped into a dredging scheme for the Rivers Tone and Parrett under Taunton Deane Borough Council’s annual budget proposals unveiled Yesterday (Tuesday). The contribution would be funded from a proposed 2% increase in Taunton Deane’s share of the Council Tax which would increase the average Band D bill by 5p a week – up from £2.59 to £2.64. The increase is subject to a Government announcement on tax increase limit.
The Borough’s share of the bill accounts for around 10% of the total with the majority of the tax levied by Somerset County Council to pay for countywide services such as education, highways and social care. The total bill also includes sums for Police and Fire services.
Central government has, historically, provided the majority of money to local authorities. But, due to the pressures on the public purse, Taunton Deane will have seen its annual grant reduce by almost half over the five years to 2015 – down by 44% or £3.46million.
Despite the pressures the Council remains committed to support its ambitions for growth, regeneration and development and plans to invest £1.6 million in supporting initiatives.
There will be continued investment in housing with a £7.7 million programme of improvements to its stock of homes and extra money for disabled facilities grants which enable people to live at home for longer. A further £0.5m will be invested in new homes.
Some changes have been made to initial budget proposals published in December:
- Car Parking Charges: The initial proposals included a review of parking charges. This is likely to be deferred and considered outside the annual budget setting process. Any proposals would be considered under the approved parking strategy and would be subject to consultation via the TRO (Traffic Regulation Order) Panel.
- Public Toilets: The Executive is proposing to reduce the number of closures by retaining the lavatories in French Weir Park, Victoria Park and Canon Street Car Park in Taunton, and retaining the facilities in North Street, Wellington, instead of Longforth Road. Nine facilities in total will be retained.
- Mayoralty Support: A rethink of the earlier proposal to reduce the support to the mayoralty and keeping the Civic Officer post.
The Council has agreed to join management and share services with West Somerset Council, a move that will deliver significant annual savings to the Borough. But it is not enough to close the budget gap that is predicted to grow unless action is taken.
The budget closes a gap for 2014-15 of more than £1 million. The gap is forecast to rise to £3.1 million by 2018-19.
The Council’s Executive is to recommend a package of proposals, making a total saving of £1.054 million, that would close the budget gap in the year ahead and leave some money available to meet transformation challenges and invest for the future. The Executive will debate the proposals on February 5 before making final proposals for Full Council to consider on February 25.
A number of options covering the following two years are also being tabled for discussion and review as the aim is to consider a three-year savings plan.
The proposals for 2014-15 include:
- Investing £1.6 million from New Homes Bonus to support growth initiatives – one of the Council’s top priorities
- Investing £7.75m in the housing capital programme to deliver ongoing improvements including significant investment in kitchens, bathrooms, heating systems and guttering.
- Investing £0.5m in new social housing
- Investing £0.6m in the capital programme to provide Disabled Facilities Grants and essential vehicles and equipment replacement to help deliver key services
- Discontinuing the parish liaison service as alternative provision is available through the Somerset Association of Local Councils.
- Increasing planning advice charges
- Closing 10 out of 19 public toilets.
The proposals would result in the deletion of nine vacant posts, with three further posts being made redundant from a workforce of 542.7 full time equivalent staff.
Council housing rents are due to increase on average by 6.23%. This is to enable the council to maintain housing quality and invest in new housing, as well as pay off the £85 million of housing debt the council had to take on under the ‘self financing’ regime which has enabled Taunton Deane to restart its home-building programme.
The proposals will be considered by the Council’s Executive on February 5, before the budget is put before Full Council on February 25.