Bucks’ council tax to rise by 3.99% EACH YEAR

Martin Tett
Martin Tett

Bucks County Council is proposing to increase council tax by 3.99% for the next three years in the wake of Government cuts.

At a cabinet meeting yesterday (Monday), it was recommended increasing council tax to keep services ‘as robust and viable as possible’ to help protect vulnerable people.

Two per cent of the increase follows news that the Government has allowed councils to raise extra money specifically to meet the rising costs of adult social care.

The rest of the increase comes in the wake of new funding rules which mean the council is losing tens of millions of pounds in grant reductions each year.

Members also proposed further 3.99% increases each year for the next three years to help maintain the county council’s services.

Cabinet members today (Tuesday) are meeting Greg Clark, secretary of state for communities and local government to make them aware of the county’s situation after hearing yesterday how the funding announcement made last month had come as a shock, with Bucks the second worst-affected area in the country in terms of losing its grant.

Council leader Martin Tett said: “It is with great regret that we have had to make these proposals but we really have no choice due to the imminent complete loss of central government grant to the county council as well as the increase in demand for high-cost services such as those to the county’s elderly and the safeguarding of vulnerable children.”

Mr Tett pointed out that the county council had managed to keep council tax at the same level for four years until 2014/15 when it was raised by 1.5% and then a further 1.99% the following year.

But Government funding – which was £60.8m a year in 2013/14 - will be reduced to zero by 2018/19.

Mr Tett added: “This is a very well-managed and efficient council and we have made enormous cost savings over the last few years.

“We budgeted for a steep cut in funding but unfortunately, the grant announced at the end of 2015 was far, far more challenging than anything we had anticipated.

“The massive scale of the reductions was totally unforeseen and the changes to the way the cuts were allocated were not consulted upon.

“This gave us very little time to come up with credible and deliverable proposals needed to balance the budget.

“Not only do we lose all Government grants earlier than any other county in the country but our business rates and New Homes Bonus will also be heavily cut.

“We do recognise and support the Government’s task in reducing the budget deficit but this is a really, really difficult budget for us and one that none of us expected to have to put forward.”

The financial difficulties have been compounded by the Government’s decision, in line with the move towards all schools being either academies or free schools, to reduce the Education Services Grant of £4.5m by 2019/20.

The council estimates it will only be able to reduce £1.5m of these costs by then, meaning a net loss of £3m.

According to Mr Tett, the financial challenges will mean:

* Significant reductions across most services;

* The closure of a number of children’s centres;

* A lack of funding to support the integration of health and social care services to residents; and

* The inability to resource support to the housing growth plans of the district councils and, in particular, provide the key infrastructure required such as roads and schools.

However, the cabinet, in keeping with the wishes of residents in a recent survey of budget priorities, also aims to commit £15m to its Highways Maintenance budget in 2016/17.

The council tax increase is in line with the limits set by the Secretary of State before a referendum has to be triggered.

Local authorities are allowed to raise the tax by 1.99% but those with adult social care responsibilities are permitted to increase it by a further 2%.

The final decision on the proposals and overall budget, which will now go out to consultation and scrutiny, will be agreed by full council at its meeting on February 18.