Council tax frozen and NO service cuts in West Oxfordshire
Council tax is being frozen again, there will be NO cuts to services, and more efficiency savings are on target in West Oxfordshire – with no reduction in funding to voluntary organisations and facilities like free car parking safeguarded.
West Oxfordshire District Council – which already has the second lowest Council Tax of all 201 shire district councils in England and lowest of all 5 district councils in Oxfordshire – has today (Wednesday February 27) set its 2013/14 budget and is promising to:
· FREEZE its share of council tax for the third year running - to help residents at a time when other bills are continuing to rise, West Oxfordshire’s share of the council tax remains frozen at an annual charge of £81.63 at Band D, less than half the national average. This equates to just over £1.50 per household per week, for all the services provided by the Council.
· PROTECT frontline services - while other councils are making cutbacks.
· CONTINUE support for the voluntary sector - with a total of £277,850 set aside in grants for local bodies such as Citizens Advice Bureau and Age UK, which support the District and its residents, at a time when other councils claw-back, or fail to give, this type of funding.
· DELIVER an extra £420,000 of annual efficiency savings in the next 12 months -through a shared working and efficiency programme, on top of £2.4m of savings already made since 2008.
· MAINTAIN services and provisions that support the District, residents and businesses - such as free parking across 16 public car parks 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, to help the economy and communities continue to thrive.
Proud to be protecting services
Protection of services includes free household garden waste collections, which carry a fee in many other local authority areas, continuing flood alleviation work and support for businesses, including free car parking. West Oxfordshire is the only local authority in the county - and one of only a few authorities in the country - to provide free 24/7 parking in its car parks.
Council Leader Cllr Barry Norton said: “The Council is proud to maintain its policy of free car parking throughout the District which contributes to the vibrancy of our town centres and helps underpin our buoyant economy. Despite on-going difficult times, unemployment and crime rates within the District remain some of the lowest in the country, and Witney with its excellent choice of national and independent shops has seen an increase in footfall in 2012 with some evidence which suggests 2013 will see an upward trend continue.”
“We have a determination to use as little of taxpayers’ money as possible to carry on with services like this, to help ensure our District continues to be one of the best places to live, work and visit.”
Rodney Hartnell, Manager of the Woolgate Shopping Centre in Witney, West Oxfordshire’s largest town, said: “It’s always busy, with residents and visitors coming in from all over and choosing to travel here. Footfall at the Woolgate has been on an upward trend, and we know that it’s up on last year. Free parking is definitely a huge attraction and it’s fantastic that this is continuing.”
United approach to improving value for money
Cllr Norton said a “united approach” to improving the value for money of council services had helped councillors and council staff to tackle the “extreme challenges” of budget setting at a time of continuing, significant financial pressures faced by all local authorities.
“This will be the third year that we have frozen council tax for residents when inflation has been running at levels above 3%, that’s a real terms cut of more than 10%, to make a difference to households which are having to find extra money to pay for energy, fuel and food costs. Whilst our portion of the council tax is very small, every little helps,” he said.
“Not only are we meeting the budgetary challenges, but we also continue to provide first-class services to our residents, while supporting our voluntary sector, with no cutbacks and a promise of further efficiency savings on the way.”
West Oxfordshire – one of the best places to live, work and visit
The budget includes net expenditure of just over £9m - £106,000 less than 2012/13 as the Council continues to reduce costs, while maintaining services.
The Council has pledged to help vulnerable residents through welfare reforms and changes to the Council Tax Benefit scheme by ensuring that support is available, while many other councils are reducing the amount of benefits available.
A ‘Living Wage’ of £7.45 per hour will also be introduced, supporting the Council’s lowest paid staff.
Cllr Simon Hoare, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Resources, said: “It’s fantastic news to have delivered a balanced budget that will deliver first class services for our local communities. We have only been able to do this by reforming how the Council operates and continuing to strive for efficiency and savings.
“In order to ensure that this year is not a ‘one off’, we will continue that process as we reduce our overheads through the increased sharing of jobs with our strategic partner Cotswold District Council. I’m particularly pleased that we have been able to deliver the Living Wage and protect grants to the voluntary sector; hopefully that says a lot about what makes our administration tick.”
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