Zero increase in Council Tax
The zero increase in Council Tax has been achieved despite central government funding reduction of approximately 60% over the last 5 years. The books have been balanced and significant projects are going forward. The first new council houses to be built in decades are due to be completed this year. The new waste management and recycling contract commenced just before Christmas will provide an enhanced service and several hundred thousands of pounds savings to the budget each year. The council is moving forward with investment plans for a retail park at Langston Road to generate jobs for local people as well as income for council services.
Thanks in large part to a £1million bid for lottery funding, the council continues to invest in cultural services with the redevelopment of the Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey. The council is working hard to ensure it can meet the aspirations of local residents following consultation on the future of St John’s Road in Epping.
Resources will continue to be channelled into the production of a new Local Plan for Epping Forest. The plan is nearing the next public consultation stage with emphasis on balancing the need for jobs, housing and other development with protection and conservation of the local environment. The council will also continue to work hard on behalf of those residents in greatest need, maintaining resources to prevent homelessness before it occurs, providing benefits to people, and generating growth in the local economy for jobs.
Reduction in government funding
Finance Portfolio Holder Syd Stavrou reminded councillors of the long process leading to the completion of the budget. A 14.2% reduction in central government funding was welcomed by councillor Stavrou insofar as the cut was slightly less than expected, leading the council to a slightly better overall position of approximately £75,000. Councillor Stavrou also listed better than expected returns on Business Rates and the New Homes Bonus. Councillor Stavrou said that it was a sign of the strength of the Housing Revenue Account that the council could build new homes with a rent increase of only 2.2% next year. The council’s total gross revenue expenditure for 2015/16 will be £123 million.
Despite the strength of the council budgets, Councillor Stavrou said that the Council retained a responsibility to avoid complacency and continue to search for savings. To that end she also noted a small invest to save budget specifically to support new ideas for efficiency and future savings.
Epping Forest District Council has been a low-tax council for many years. Council Stavrou said that this was how she intended it to remain.
Councillors across the council chamber broadly supported the new budget. Councillor Chris Pond spoke for the Loughton Residents Association, identifying differences on points of detail while supporting the main features of the new budget. Councillor Jon Whitehouse, speaking for the Liberal Democrat Group was also in agreement with the broad principles of the budget while looking for detailed changes to items on car-parking tariffs and voluntary sector funding. An amendment to reflect his suggestions was defeated.
A good budget for local people
Council Leader Chris Whitbread strongly recommended the District Council budget. Speaking after the meeting, Council Leader Chris Whitbread said: “This is a good budget for local people, for the 5th year we have been able to freeze the council tax whilst finding savings and protecting the services we all care about.”
Earlier in the meeting, councillors were wished a happy New Year by Council Chairman Tony Boyce as they gathered for the first meeting of the Full Council since Christmas. Moving swiftly from the tongue-in-cheek greeting, Councillor Boyce read the contents of a letter from Crisis at Christmas thanking him and the council for supporting its work over the festive season.
Councillor Gary Waller followed up the chairman’s comments with a statement about the importance of safeguarding at Christmas and throughout the year. He urged councillors to take advantage of the latest training available to help them where they might become aware of domestic abuse or other safeguarding issues through their official duties.