Ratepayers in Bradley Stoke will see no increase in the amount of Council Tax they pay in 2011/2012 following decisions by all four charging bodies to freeze their respective tax demands at 2010/2011 levels.
South Gloucestershire Council (SGC), Avon and Somerset Police and Avon Fire & Rescue have all decided to set zero percent increases, thereby securing ‘Council Tax Freeze Grants’ from central government, worth £2.8m (equivalent to a 1.6% tax rise) to SGC alone.
Bradley Stoke Town Council (BSTC), which is not eligible for the government sweetener, has also declared an unchanged precept – leading to a unaltered total bill of £1,580 for the ‘average’ band D property in the town.
Opposition groups supported Conservative-led SGC’s tax freeze but were critical of the lack of detail on proposed cuts and the need to dip into the authority’s reserves.
In setting a budget of £196 million council, SGC says it will implement a set of initiatives to help it run more efficiently, which it hopes will save taxpayers just over £9 million during 2011/12.
The projected savings include £6.6 million through simplifying its ‘back office’ function (rising to around £10 million per year eventually); £1.2 million through reducing the number of senior managers working at the Council (rising to around £2 million eventually) and £1.4 million by procuring goods and services more efficiently (rising to between £7 million and £9 million eventually).
The efficiency savings will see more than 300 Council jobs axed over the next two years.
In addition to the projected savings, the Council will need to take £2.3 million from its reserves in order to balance the books.
The Town Council’s 2011/2012 budget also foresees a shortfall – of nearly £19k (equivalent to a 2.3% precept rise) but Councillors voted unanimously to set a zero percent precept rise and fund the defecit from reserves.
Referring to SGC’s injection of an extra £58k into youth club provision in Bradley Stoke, Mayor Ben Walker said:
“This budget is good news for the people of Bradley Stoke. Not only are we receiving some much needed extra investment for our young people but the Council Tax freeze dovetails nicely with the Town Council precept freeze as a shining example of Conservative efficiency.”
Expressing his disappointment that opposition councillors, including Bradley Stoke North representative Cllr Jon Williams (Lib Dem), didn’t support the budget, he added:
“It beggars belief that a representative of Bradley Stoke would not support this budget. Cllr Williams should have put politics aside and voted with the Conservatives on this one.”
Cllr Ruth Davis, Leader of the Lib Dem group on SGC, said:
“Many of these savings have yet to be worked out and until you make the details public there will be no guarantee that these savings will not actually be cuts. What we know is that it really is a case of the devil is in the detail.”
SGC Labour Group Leader Cllr Roger Hutchinson said:
“The Tory-led Government has South Gloucestershire in a headlock. We support a Council Tax freeze for hard-pressed families but we are being bribed with our own money in the form of a one-off special grant to achieve it. It is a political con trick. The Government has made it clear that it will penalise us if we do not do what it says. This proves the emptiness of its commitment to localism.”
Footnote: Bradley Stoke Councillor Robert Jones (Conservative) was forced to make an apology after he published an insensitive message about “not making enough cuts” on the social media website Twitter prior to SGC’s budget setting meeting.
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