Positive budget invests in West Suffolk’s future,  improves services and keeps charges low

23 Feb 2024

West Suffolk Council Budget graphic

Proposals to invest in a fair, thriving and sustainable future for West Suffolk and improve essential services while meeting significant national and local financial challenges have been agreed.

West Suffolk Council voted last night, Tuesday, 20 February, budget proposals to support the delivery of the authority’s newly agreed ambitious strategic priorities.

This includes investing in essential services that residents rely on, supporting thriving communities, sustainable growth, the delivery of affordable, available and decent homes while also focusing on environmental resilience.

West Suffolk Council is forecasting a two-year balanced budget despite an additional £5 million in pressures (around 6 per cent of the overall £78 million gross budget). This has been caused by increased inflation, cost of living and higher demand for services, additional demands from Government and traditional reduced funding.

Council supported a balanced operational budget for the next two years and a 10 year, £131 million capital investment programme. This includes but is not limited to new and continued investments such as:

Essential service improvements

  • £200,000 - Investment in the council’s Grounds Maintenance service through increased skilled workforce and additional investment in new green equipment for operational efficiencies.
  • £590,000 in a range of vital services such as Building Control to ensure safety of developments; planning to deliver the future of West Suffolk through the Local Plan and meet the priorities such as ensuring more affordable homes; regulatory services to meet increased demands especially around checking private sector housing are at required standards.

Affordable, available and decent homes

  • Council agreed the introduction of a second homes Council Tax premium to encourage owners to bring them back into use to help relieve the pressure on existing housing stock in the area.
  • Around £1.2 million has been budgeted on preventing people becoming homeless.
  • £100,000 provision to identify more ways in which the council can increase affordable, preferably social housing, across the district, including investigating the use of a Housing Revenue Account so that the council can build home for social and affordable rent.
  • Continued support of Barley Homes Limited to develop much needed housing, including affordable properties.

Sustainable growth

  • An increased £30 million capital funding provision to support investment in our growth strategy, which will be subject to separate business cases.
  • An additional £3 million capital budget (£15.1 million in total) for the advanced manufacturing and engineering (AME) units, Suffolk Business Park, which is a partnership project bringing advanced manufacturing skills and jobs as well as business growth to the area.
  • A £2.3 million investment in commercial units owned by the council at Anglian Lane site in Bury St Edmunds and 2 Hollands Road, Haverhill to regenerate the asset to support business growth whilst increasing its rental income which goes towards the delivery of much valued local services.
  • Establish a commissioning fund to progress a number of sustainable growth initiatives including along the A11 corridor near Mildenhall, A1307 and A14 to bring more employment and business opportunities.

Environmental resilience

  • £2.75 million of investment to top up the net zero fund totalling £11.75 million to support further investment in council assets, including the leisure portfolio and the authority’s highly successful solar for business scheme.

Thriving communities

  • Over £13 million capital investment in a range of improvements to parks, open spaces and leisure facilities across West Suffolk over the next 10 years. Including funding for Bury St Edmunds, Haverhill and Brandon Leisure Centres.
  • £440,000 over the next two years in car park improvements, resurfacing and new EV (electric vehicle) points through the district.
  • The budget will also support the newly announced Brandon Commission. This will look at the issues faced in delivering new housing in Brandon which is currently limited due to its surrounding unique national habitats.
  • £300,000 fund to give extraordinary utility support for Abbeycroft to cover and protect from swimming pool closures or reduction in provision.
  • Establish a £200,000 fund to support activities and advice to help residents facing challenges as a result of the cost of living crisis.

At the same time the council continues to invest £646,000 in Community Chest and Locality Budgets that support tailored local initiatives.

The council will also continue to invest in initiatives such as Solar for Business which is expected to bring in ongoing income of around £760,000 per annum and reduced costs for businesses. So far 78 business premises have signed up to the scheme. This has prevented 1,670 tonnes of carbon from being released into the atmosphere.

This year Government has given a settlement that does not meet the costs of running services and expects in their calculations that all councils put up Council Tax to the maximum amount available (2.99 per cent). West Suffolk will follow other local authorities and Government guidance with a rise of 11p a week extra (£5.76 a year increase) to £197.82 for the average Band D property. Around seventy per cent of properties in West Suffolk are within bands A to C and will therefore pay less than this. Council Tax paid to West Suffolk Council is only 11 per cent of the total bill and covers under a fifth of the cost of services. The council have also agreed to extend up to 100 per cent discount on Council Tax to many low income and vulnerable residents, including those in work.

The budget process has also given the opportunity to listen to residents, businesses and car park users by simplifying some parking charges and abolishing others. The £1 overnight charge for Bury St Edmunds car parks in the evening will be abolished making parking in the evenings simpler by doing away with the confusion over the overnight charge. Parking tariffs will be extended to 8pm and then free afterwards in Bury St Edmunds. In addition, following feedback it is proposed to introduce the option of a new additional hour’s parking on the short stay Cattlemarket car park. All other tariffs and discounts will remain across West Suffolk.

This is part of a common-sense review of charges and tariffs for services the council delivers to tailor them so they stay in line with their true costs, following high inflation and price rises but avoid blanket rises.

In addition, the council will make £1 million in savings or new local income over the next two years as part of its continuing service improvement and behaving commercially programme. This is on top of the £1 million already achieved in the current year’s budget.

Cllr Cliff Waterman, Leader of West Suffolk Council, said: “This budget will help power a thriving West Suffolk and deliver our strategic priorities. It protects and improves essential services whilst meeting the tough challenge of £5million additional funding pressures, such as inflation, cost of living and higher demand for services that we have seen affecting public services across the UK. It means we have been able not only to meet this gap but to invest in things that really matter to our communities, businesses and the environment. I look forward to engaging further with our communities and partners to help design and drive forward the initiatives that this budget will help fund.”

Cllr Victor Lukaniuk, Deputy Leader of West Suffolk Council, said: “Setting a balanced budget for two years in these difficult times has been hard and tough decisions will continue to have to be made. But the council is in a stable and robust financial position to not only meet these challenges but importantly invest further in the whole of West Suffolk for all our communities and businesses. I am pleased to see that a Brandon Commission is being formed to look at our unique challenges.”

Cllr Diane Hind, Cabinet Member for Resources for West Suffolk Council, said: “The council has been and will continue to do everything it can to make sure we continue to deliver sustainable services by behaving commercially, making secure investments to generate income and a wider return for our communities. In addition, making sure services continue to be efficient. However, these financial pressures and historically reduced national funding, including less than inflation and required funding from Government for next year, has meant we have followed guidance from ministers in increasing Council Tax. An increase of 11p a week or £5.76 a year for the average band D property – meaning tax payers contribute under a fifth of the council’s income directly through Council Tax with the rest from other sources such as government funding and locally generated fees and charges.”

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