Council tax freeze for residents in Cherwell

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Cherwell residents will not have to fork out more cash for the district element of council tax in the coming year, Cherwell District Council has promised.

At Monday’s full council meeting, councillors approved budget proposals fixing council tax contributions for 2014-15 at the same level as last year.

Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, council leader Barry Wood said Cherwell had worked hard to protect council tax payments to help ease financial pressures on Cherwell residents, despite cuts in government grants.

“The council has to balance one thing against another and our view has been that the cost of living for hard working families is extremely important,” he said.

Lead member for finance management, Ken Atak, said the council had balanced its budget despite facing a £1.1 million cut in government grants and a £700,000 spending increase.

The increased spend is due partly to profits from a recycling scheme being £148,000 lower than expected due to a drop in prices for recycled goods, and a £378,000 increase in spending on local authority pensions.

But Mr Atak said Cherwell could cover this from income generated from The New Homes Bonus – a government reward scheme based on numbers of homes built – and a new business rates pooling scheme which will see Cherwell unite with Oxon County Council and West Oxfordshire District Council to collect the annual rates, leading to opportunities for increased revenue generated from tariffs and caps.

Cherwell, which already shares many services with South Northants Council, also approved plans for a three-way partnership including Stratford-on-Avon District Council. The first phase of the plan, currently out for consultation, is a shared IT provision which will see the councils developing shared IT systems and services to underpin other council services.

Councillors could not yet confirm how much this is expected to save.

A one-off £366,000 Transformations Grant from central government will be used to employ four members of staff for two years to oversee the development of the combined IT project, but Mr Wood said no redundancies were expected from Cherwell’s IT department. “We’re starting with IT because if you have a good basis with IT it makes so much of the other work easier,” he said.

The council faced a £1.149 million cut in its government grant for the financial year 2014-15 and will face a further £1.1 million cut in 2015-16.

Mr Wood said he was pleased the council had managed to balance its budget in the circumstances and promised no front-line services would be diminished. But added the council could not afford to be “complacent”.