Thursday, 25 February 2021

Council tax going up with leaders blaming effect of pandemic

Council tax going up with leaders blaming effect of pandemic

RESIDENTS of Henley face paying nearly £70 more in council tax from April 1.

Oxfordshire County Council, which has by far the biggest share of the charge, has agreed a 2.99 per cent increase, including one per cent to help fund adult social care.

This means that the average band D household will now pay £1,573.11 a year for the council’s services, an increase of £47 on the current financial year.

South Oxfordshire District Council has raised its share of the tax by 3.99 per cent. This means a band D household will now pay £131.24 a year, an increase of £5, for it services.

Henley Town Council has agreed to increase its precept by 1.1 per cent, meaning a band D household will pay £109.71 a year, an increase of £1.19.

The tax precept for Thames Valley Police will go up by £15 a year.

This means that the overall rise in tax will be £68.29 to a total of £1,830.25 for a band D property.

The county council says there is increased uncertainty over the funding for local government in light of the coronavirus pandemic and it needs to protect essential services.

Council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “Protecting and investing in frontline services is our priority as well as seeking to become ever more efficient as an organisation.

“We will continue to take the cautious and measured approach towards managing our budgets that has served us so well over many years.

“We are very conscious that the need for extra funding has to be balanced against the pressures on residents’ incomes during the pandemic. This is not an easy time financially, or otherwise, for businesses, residents and families.”

The council’s budget includes a total of £19.6 million of savings across all services, although the majority of this had already been planned and involves making services more efficient.

Councillor David Bartholomew, cabinet member for finance, who represents the Sonning Common division, said: “The Government’s rules allow for an extra three per cent council tax rise for adult social care on top of the basic council tax.

“However, we recognise that over recent months the hard hand of covid has squeezed residents’ household budgets.

“We have therefore levied just one per cent of the adult social care precept, which leaves us able to plan on the basis of levying the remaining two per cent for the 2022/23 financial year, if needed.”

South Oxfordshire’s £5 increase is the maximum it can approve without calling a referendum, which would cost £100,000.

Councillor Leigh Rawlins, cabinet member for finance, said: “The covid-19 pandemic continues to provide significant challenges for us, both operationally and
financially. It is very difficult to say how long this will continue, or what the potential long-term impact may be. We hope that things will become a little clearer once there is sufficient evidence to show how the vaccine is working and the Government publishes its pathway out of lockdown.

“We are legally required to agree our budget before then so we will need to keep the budget under review during the year and revisions may be required once we have more certainty.

“As a council, we are absolutely committed to the priorities laid out in our new corporate plan.

“One of our key themes is to improve economic and community wellbeing. We know that many people have been badly affected by the pandemic and we will continue to provide support for our residents and businesses, both while restrictions are in place and once the focus switches to economic recovery.”

Last year, the district council’s band D rate of £126.24 was the seventh-lowest in the country for a shire district.

Henley Town Council’s rise of 1.1 per cent will bring in an extra £15,900 but the council’s budget will still run with a £200,000 deficit.

The council’s finance strategy and management committee expects to receive £889,500 from council tax, rents and licences and to spend £779,300, which will mostly go on salaries and grants.

Henley Residents Group, which runs the council, says the deficit is justified because the council provides “excellent” services to residents and has lost £100,000 in income due to the pandemic.

Residents of Caversham and Emmer Green can expect a rise of 4.99 per cent from Reading Borough Council. This includes three per cent for adult social care and is the most possible without a referendum.

For the majority of properties in Reading, where 40 per cent are in band C, this equates to an increase of £75.06 a year.

Council leader Jason Brock said: “The crisis in adult social care funding existed long before the covid pandemic arrived.

“Despite repeated promises, central Government has failed to deliver a long-term and sustainable funding solution for adult social care and has instead continued with its ‘sticking plaster’ approach.

“We know those pressures will continue into the year ahead and, as unwelcome as the council tax rise may be, we need to factor those pressures into the new budget.”

Wokingham Borough Council, which provides ervices in Wargrave, Charvil, Crazies Hill and Remenham, was set to agree a 4.99 per cent increase yesterday (Thursday). This includes three per cent for adult social care. The annual cost for the average band D property would rise by £80.84 to £1,620.

Council leader John Halsall said: “We are the lowest funded council in England, so that really tempers it all. We get the lowest amount of money from the Government and our council tax pretty much pays for all our services.

“There are things we’ve done during the pandemic to protect the borough and some of those will be permanent now.”

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