A balanced budget to save pools and boost prosperity, health and the environment
22 Feb 2023
A balanced budget to help the most vulnerable, drive prosperity, health and improve the environment while meeting funding challenges has been agreed by West Suffolk Council.
The budget includes £300,000 to ensure pools stay open in West Suffolk despite soaring utility and energy costs which has already seen others closed in the UK.
Despite high inflation, the cost-of-living crisis, the ongoing effects of COVID-19 as well as increased fuel costs West Suffolk Council plans to deliver a balanced budget over the next two years.
The budget includes:
- Continuing the £9 million investment, announced by the council last year, in initiatives to tackle the climate crisis and reach net zero by 2030. The Council remains on target to reach this and is a nationally award-winning authority for its work in this area.
- Funding to deliver a £40 million replacement for Bury St Edmunds leisure centre as part of the first phase of the Western Way initiative that aims through use of renewables to be off grid. This is part of a wider initiative to improve health and leisure across West Suffolk which has seen around £45 million invested in improving leisure centres in Brandon, Haverhill, Newmarket and the Mildenhall Hub.
- Nearly £28 million of capital expenditure over the next two years on encouraging economic growth and prosperity. This includes projects under the Council’s Investing in our Growth Agenda Strategy) – such as Incubation Units at Suffolk Business Park as well as funding for the successful Barley Homes development company that brings additional income for the council and good quality homes.
- Additional £240,000 investment per year in waste and grounds maintenance team in recognition of the importance of this service to communities and the continued demands through the housing growth in the district.
- £1.3 million (2023 to 2027) for capital investment in open spaces and parks as well as our popular museums and attractions that are vital to the wellbeing and health of residents as well as doing their part to protect and improve the local environment.
- £513,000 has been made available for the successful community chest initiative which provides funding for local community groups. Over the last four years the Council has invested more than £2 million in supporting groups across West Suffolk.
- £440,000 for car park improvements, including the creation of a new one at Clare as well as provision of electric charging points across West Suffolk.
To help meet historic reduced national funding the Council has also generated income to help balance the budget, this includes investing in solar, such as Toggam Solar Farm and working with businesses to put solar power on their properties as well as the council’s own. The budget highlights the work the council has been doing which will see an additional £1.75 million in solar income for the council as well as generating electricity to supply the council’s buildings whilst the solar is generating electricity and when not through another 100 per cent renewable energy source.
The Council’s wholly owned housing company, Barley Homes, has been delivering developments in Haverhill with more in the pipeline. The report shows its activities delivering an estimated £300,000 per annum across the medium term (an additional £100,000 per annum from last year’s estimates), to support the future years’ budgets
The robust and prudent financial planning and management has enabled the council to deliver high quality services and the strategic aims of West Suffolk. This can be seen in year-on-year savings and income generation, alongside the £5 million in annual savings made from shared services and the creation of a single council in April 2019. This put the Council on a stronger financial footing as well as the right size to better champion West Suffolk communities. Due to this financial management, and despite previous reductions in national funding as well as the severe impact of COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis on finances, the Council can put forward a balanced budget for 2023 to 2024 and an indicative balanced budget for the following year 2024 to 2025.
The Council heard at its meeting, Tuesday, February 21, there is even more demand for council services by communities and businesses who are feeling the financial squeeze. A package of measures has been put in place to support communities and businesses during the cost-of-living crisis.
As part of this the council, with partners, are collectively investing £500,000 to help reduce Council Tax by 100 per cent for a year for means tested low-income families, including those in work. Around 11 per cent of households under this initiative and others will pay no or reduced Council Tax.
Government announced in the Autumn Statement that councils were expected to increase Council Tax due to reduced funding and financial challenges. This recognised the funding pressures caused by the national cost of living crisis, inflation, fuel bills and the Ukraine war on the delivery of council services.
To help meet these expectations Government increased the Council Tax levels that councils could ask for. Council Tax is used to help fund services but only covers 20 per cent of the cost of delivering them. West Suffolk’s share of the overall council tax bill is around 10%, the majority of the council tax goes to Suffolk County Council.
Despite this expectation by Government for a greater rise in Council Tax the meeting was told that currently the Council would not change its medium term plans and stick to the lower Council Tax level increase as assumed in the previous year budget projections.
So, while Government would have expected the authority to raise our Council Tax by nearly 3 per cent to £5.58 a year – West Suffolk Council are looking to stick to its agreed medium term financial plans of a raise of £4.95 – which is just under 10p a week for a Band D property. More than 70% of households are on below D band for Council Tax and will pay less.
West Suffolk Council’s response to the financial challenges and opportunities are based on six key themes:
1. Aligning resources to West Suffolk’s strategic framework and essential services.
2. Sharing services and transformation of service delivery.
3. Behaving more commercially.
4. Considering new funding models.
5. Encouraging the use of digital forms for customer access.
6. Taking advantage of new forms of local government finance.
Cllr John Griffiths, Leader of West Suffolk Council, said: “This is a balanced and forward-thinking budget that many councils across the UK would be proud to deliver, particularly in these financially challenging times. The bold and prudent decisions we have made in the past have built firm financial foundations to not only face current national and global financial challenges but proactively invest in our local communities, our economy and environment. Indeed, it has also enabled us, despite rising inflation and increased demand impacting on our services, to make additional provision to help our residents who are also feeling the effects of the cost-of-living crisis. This budget continues West Suffolk Council’s strong record of investing in vital high-quality services, ground breaking leisure facilities to improve health as well as cementing our position as the place to grow and do business. At the same time it complements our work with partners to further improve the health of our local economy, communities, businesses, and environment across the district – building on the great achievements West Suffolk Council has already delivered.”
Cllr Sarah Broughton, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Resources and Property for West Suffolk, said: “This budget continues to invest in the prosperity, health and wellbeing as well as the environment of West Suffolk. It recognises the financial challenges of West Suffolk communities and businesses while dealing with the pressures this also causes for all public services. We have invested in helping the most vulnerable facing the cost-of-living crisis by reducing Council Tax, for many, including those working. The council has provided extra funding to make sure our swimming pools stay open even though others are already closed due to high utility bills. Not only have we been able to continue to provide high quality services, that meet the increasing demand, we are investing heavily in economic growth, as well as the health of our community through parks and leisure facilities. In addition, we continue the £9 million package of measures to protect and improve the environment to reach carbon neutral by 2030.
“Our historic financial decisions have held us in good stead with addition income being generated not only by our investments but through solar and our housing developer. We have helped, with other councils, secure £11.2 million over the last two years for a range of initiatives in West Suffolk and the county. In addition, we have a superb track record in attracting Government funding and helping businesses and communities access it – with £110 million being invested in West Suffolk in the last four years. This has all meant we could keep to our previous plans of last year of lower Council Tax rises rather than take up Government’s expectation of higher increases. This budget builds on the council’s award-winning work to ensure our businesses, communities and environment have a prosperous future.”