COUNCIL tax will rise and rents on social housing increase if a new budget is approved.
Wiltshire Council has released its plan to balance the books amid ‘an unpredictable time’ with a cost-of-living crisis and soaring inflation.
The council says the proposed budget – managing £465 million – will deliver ‘quality vital services through an unpredictable time over the next three financial years’ while also ‘delivering on its Business Plan priorities’.
In a bid to balance the books, the council plans to raise council tax by 2.99 percent, in addition to a 2 percent levy to pay for social care.
This increase will be added to demands from the likes of the fire and police services, as well as parish councils and others, to decide the final bills sent to households from April.
What is money being spent on?
A council spokesperson said the proposals would see an increase in council spending in a bid to cover ‘inflation and demand for services’.
The most significant spending in 2023/24, the council says, will be on:
- Whole life pathway (mental health, autism spectrum conditions and learning disabilities support services) – £96m, an increase of £11m
- Living and aging well (adult care) – £83m, an increase of £15m
- Families and children –£63m, an increase of £2m
- Environment (which includes waste and recycling services)– £48m, an increase of £4m
- Highways and transport – £41m, an increase of £3m
- Education and skills – £29m, an increase of £6m
A funding gap of some £33m will be filled under the plan, the administration says, through a number of savings across council departments, including in staffing, as well as through some increases in charges and taxes.
Some £13 million of reserves will also be released to spend on business priorities under the plans, particularly in supporting housing provision during the cost of living crisis.
What is happening to council tax and social rents?
Changes to council tax charges would mean an increase in Wiltshire Council’s share of £1.57 per week for those in a Band D property.
Meanwhile, rents on council-owned housing will increase by the maximum allowed – 7 percent – meaning the average rent for a two-bedroom home would go from £93.93 per week, to £100.50 per week.
Garage rents will increase by 5 percent and service charges will also increase to cover costs, the budget proposal says.
Other measures aimed at saving or bringing in money include increasing some fees and charges for services such as leisure and garden waste collection; letting space out at council buildings where appropriate; and a more streamlined Street Scene service.
Which projects are going ahead?
The council says it will continue to invest in the improvement and maintenance of infrastructure.
Almost £200m is set to be spent on capital projects in 2023/24, including:
- Salisbury Future High Streets – £7.585m
- Trowbridge Future High Streets – £4.403m
- Fitness equipment for leisure centres – £986k
- Council house build programme/refurbishment – £30.580m
- Schools maintenance and modernisation – £8.268m
- Silverwood Special School – £10.262m
- Installation of contactless parking machines £127k
- Ultrafast broadband – £1.011m
- Structural maintenance and bridges – £20.727m
- M4/J17 project – £1.950m
- A338 Salisbury junction improvements – £1.261m
- A350 Chippenham bypass – £2.640m
- Melksham Bypass – £3.106m
- Trowbridge Leisure Centre – £800k (with further funding for this project allocated in subsequent financial years)
- Drainage improvements – £500k
What do councillors say about the budget?
Cllr Richard Clewer, leader of Wiltshire Council, said: “The factors that are currently affecting everyone in their day-to-day lives, such as huge inflation, energy costs, and the cost-of-living crisis, are what we as a council and organisation are facing, too.
“For a number of years now we have had to overcome eye-watering budget gaps and we believe we have still provided quality services in the face of this.
“Through sound financial management, having a clear Business Plan which drives everything we do, and always favouring the bigger picture over short-term fixes, we believe we are in a much better place than other local authorities, and that allows us to put forward a balanced budget proposal that sees a financially sustainable council living within its means.
“We don’t make decisions such as proposing an increase to council tax lightly, as we know people are struggling at the moment, but these are necessary choices for us to provide the types of services that people rely on.
“We are also focusing on transforming and modernising our services to adapt to changing demand and new technology, not simply make cuts.
“Despite the challenges, we are still planning a significant uplift in spending on services in our county over the coming years.
“Also through sound financial management we are able to release some of the reserves we have previously set aside to address some of the specific areas of priority inside our Business Plan.
“Unlike many councils we are not using reserves to balance our books but instead to improve services for the future.
“We continue to be in regular contact with the Government, and they know full well the huge challenges that ourselves and all other local authorities are facing and the vital role we play in the daily lives of residents, so we hope this is recognised in any future funding they allocate.
“We’ll certainly continue to lobby at every opportunity. We remain an ambitious council, which is evident through our Business Plan priorities and where we want to invest, and we’ll continue to seek any funding on behalf of the county if we believe it will have a positive impact for our communities.
“Wiltshire is a thriving county with a rich and diverse heritage, and we remain focused on doing what is right for it and our communities over the long-term.”
What happens now?
Prior to being discussed and debated by councillors, at a Full Council meeting on February 21, the budget proposals will be scrutinised by groups including members, group leaders, trade union representatives and the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Management committee.
Wiltshire Council is also hosting a public webinar on January 25 for people to hear more about the proposals from Cllr Clewer and to have their questions answered.
More information can be found at www.wiltshire.gov.uk/news/budget-webinar.
To read the budget proposals in full, visit https://cms.wiltshire.gov.uk/documents/s210695/BudgetReport_130123.pdf