District council approves increase in council tax

The district council have confirmed that they will be raising council tax. PICTURE: Joe Giddens/P

The district council have confirmed that they will be raising council tax. PICTURE: Joe Giddens/PAWire - Credit: PA

The decision was made at last nights meeting.

Huntingdonshire District Council has approved an increase in council tax of 2.6 per cent, which will take effect from April.

The decision was made as the council approved its 2020/21 budget by a majority on Wednesday, February 26.

The change in council tax will see a Band D property pay £3.70 more to the district for a total of £146 for the year.

Cambridgeshire County Council has already put up its share of the council tax by 3.59 per cent, two per cent of which is specifically to fund social care.

The Liberal Democrat group voted against the budget, and in a statement read out to the council chamber, the group's leader, Cllr Sarah Conboy, said the budget is "heavily reliant on the use of reserves".

Cllr Conboy warned "we are on a financial tight rope" and said "if we can't achieve the ambitious savings" the council risks following the troubled council in Northamptonshire and "losing our ability to control of our finances".

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The government was forced to act in 2018 when the Northamptonshire County Council effective went bankrupt.

Leader of the council, Conservative Cllr Ryan Fuller, responded: "I think it's quite offensive for the Liberal Democrat group, who are normally very sensible in these matters, to publicly say, with a journalist in the room - and that may be why it was done - that we are anywhere near Northamptonshire.

"That is an outrageous suggestion to make. It just demonstrates a lack of understanding of the budgeting process".

The executive councillor for resources, Cllr Jonathan Gray, defended a deficit of £1.25 million, which will need to be covered using council reserves. He said "it's not strictly true" the council was using its reserves to cover a shortfall, arguing the council had deliberately put money into its reserves in the past few years to account for expected drops in income.

He said with money put into the reserves from its new homes bonus the council is "effectively running a surplus of £700,000".

He responded to the Liberal Democrats, saying: "I do not understand the statement about being heavily reliant on reserves. That is not the picture that is in front of you. The point of the budget surplus reserve was entirely that we had some good years, we put the money away because we knew we needed to get to a point where we would need to use some of those reserves".

And he said the savings targets accounted for 2.3 per cent of the budget. "We are committing ourselves to finding those over the lifetime of this budget," he said.

And Cllr Gray praised the council's commercial strategy, saying revenue generated to fund services from property investments was rising faster than any other income stream, including council tax. Property investments made the council £2 million in 2015/16, rising to £5.7 million last year, with a forecast for £6.3 million in 2024/25.

He said the council is in a "stable financial position".

The council's net service budget for this year was set at £17.2 million, up from £16.8 million last year.

The council said it was committing £2 million a year to fund disabled facility grants, and would also be investing "tens of millions" in a phased approach to "regenerate market towns". Money was also allocated to improve One Leisure facilities.

The council also committed to investigating civil parking enforcement plans to tackle "inconsiderate parking".

Leader of the Independent opposition group, Cllr Tim Sanderson, welcomed plans to crack down on unauthorised on-street parking, and said his group has been calling for the change "for some time".

Cllr Sanderson praised the council's investment in the disabled facility grants as "admirable" and said it would "make a difference in people's lives".

But ultimately he said, "We are doubtful that [this budget] offers the sort of hope and vision that some in our communities desperately need".

Cllr Fuller defended the change in parking strategy, saying it had been two years since the council set its parking policy and was right to look again.

Arguing for the budget he said, "it is changing the future of Huntingdonshire in a very positive way".

The budget is "retaining and indeed enhancing some of those core services," Cllr Gray said.