Council Tax in Bournemouth is set to increase by 5% as part of the new 2017/18 budget agreed by Councillors on Tuesday evening due to ‘unprecedented’ austerity measures.
Bournemouth Council will receive £51m less funding from Central Government than they did at the start of the previous coalition Government in 2010/11.
In addition to this, The Council expects a further £10.5m of ‘resourcing gaps’ and that in 2020/21 they will be expected to be purely self-sufficient on locally raised sources such as council tax, fees and charges, commercial activities and business shares.
“Our vision remains to be a top performing, efficient Council, leading Bournemouth to greater economic prosperity,” said Leader of the Council, Cllr John Beesley in a statement on Tuesday. “This sets the scene for how we will continue to organise and focus our resources, despite the increasingly challenging revenue budget”.
41% of the council’s budget is dedicated to Adult Social Care, and based on the last seven years of cuts, this is £21m proportionally more than they should be. In addition to this, a further ‘substantial provision’ of £9m will be allocated to Adults and Children’s Social Care in 2017/18 above the base budget.
Whilst the council said this recognises their intent to prioritise supporting the most vulnerable members of the community, it also highlights the growing demand, and increasing cost, of Council services.
This is the second time in as many budgets that Council Tax has risen, but the five years previous to that, Council Tax has remained stationary at a time when police and fire precepts have risen too.
Cllr Beesley said: “We do not make this decision lightly and hope that residents recognise that by not increasing Council Tax in recent years, has meant that bills were approximately £150 per annum lower than they could have been had we made modest increases each year”.
In June 2014, Bournemouth Council embarked on The Ambition 2020 – Building a Better Bournemouth project, which earmarked four areas of improvement: an efficient council, an active community, an improving environment and a thriving economy.
Substantial signs of progress with that project include the Road Rescue Fund where The Council has allocated £3.95m to fixing up the roads, and a further £250k will be made available under this year’s budget.
A common area of complaint in Bournemouth is the level of homelessness, begging, rough sleeping and vagrancy, to which The Council will mirror the £200k available fund on last year’s budget, to help people ’who are willing to be helped’ into a more stable lifestyle, reconnect them with their families elsewhere in the UK and ‘take a much tougher stance towards those who resist attempts to remove them from the streets’.
Developments in the Lansdowne area, both along Christchurch Road and Holdenhurst Road and up to the train station can be expected as the Town Centre Vision moves along. The Council said it recognises ‘the potential to bolster the local economy and drive forward growth’.
Other areas of funding include The Local Improvement Fund, The Local Welfare Assistance Fund, The Seafront Strategy and local festivals.
The Council has managed to save £360m over the last 10 years, which already exceeds the original target of £326m. To balance the books in 2017/18 however, they will need to save a further £13m whilst meeting these areas of investment.
A large part of cuts imposed by Central Government is the gradual eroding of Revenue Support Grants (RSG). RSG is applied to areas of perceived need, but in 2017/18 Bournemouth will be £6.9m worse off than it was six years ago, and they will receive just £600k in 2019/20 with the funds entirely scrapped in 2020/21.
Cllr John Beesley also criticised Central Government’s attempt to soften the blow of reduced New Homes Bonus funding with a one-off Adult Social Care Support Grant.
He said: “We strongly believe that this approach has been poorly thought through. The Government is actually making the funding position for Bournemouth and our residents even worse.
“The Government has gone to great lengths to lead people to believe that they are providing Councils with the much needed support to address the Adult Social Care funding crisis. For Bournemouth the reality could not be further from the truth.
“The amount they are permanently taking from us in New Homes Bonus, at £1.7m, is almost twice the amount they are making available to us in the form of a new one-off Adult Social Care Grant at £888k”.
By turning to its Council Tax payers to stump up the extra cash in the void of funding from central Government, it remains to be seen how Bournemouth Council will cope with juggling all of these priorities and areas of need in the year ahead.
Watch and listen to Council Tax payer reaction below: