West Oxfordshire District Council - Council Tax
West Oxfordshire District Council has set its budget for the forthcoming financial year with pledges to freeze Council Tax, protect services for the local community, maintain grants to help voluntary organisations and continue delivering efficiency savings.
The charge at Band D will remain at £81.63 during the next year after the Council agreed that there should be no increase in its share of the bill as part of budget setting at its Annual General Meeting yesterday (Wednesday 23 February 2011).
Second lowest Council Tax in England and lowest in Oxfordshire
The decision to freeze Council Tax means that West Oxfordshire looks set to continue to have the second lowest Council Tax of all 201 shire district councils in England and the lowest of all five district councils in Oxfordshire.
The £81.63 annual charge at Band D equates to just over £1.50 per household per week for all services provided by the District Council, from affordable housing and waste and recycling services to leisure centres.
The Council will receive funding of just over £85,000 – equivalent to a 2.5% increase - from the government to help with the Council Tax freeze.
Cllr Barry Norton, Leader of the Council, said that it was hoped that the freeze would help local taxpayers during continuing difficult economic times and pressure caused by increased inflation rates.
He said: “Our charge is less than half the national average charge, ensuring that local residents continue to benefit from our determination to use as little of taxpayer’s money as possible whilst continuing to provide services which help to ensure our District continues to be one of the best places to live, work and visit.”
Continuing commitment to services, grants and efficiency savings
West Oxfordshire is among local authorities facing significant funding cuts from central government – 13.75%, or a reduction of more than £750,000, with a further 10.7% decrease to come in 2012/13.
The Council has also faced pressures from decreasing investment income due to continuing low interest rates and has moved towards property investment to counteract the impact of this.
Cllr Norton said the Council had faced “huge challenges” in balancing the budget, but had taken an approach of “minimising cuts to frontline services” and would be using reserve funds to cushion the impact of the significant grant reductions, while continuing to make efficiency savings wherever possible.
The Council has made £2.5m efficiency savings in the past four years through measures including shared services, improved procurement and major re-contracts, including the new waste and recycling service introduced in November 2010, and will continue to expand on this.
Cllr Norton outlined the Council’s commitment to continue investing in the future of West Oxfordshire for the benefit of everyone who lives or works in the District.
The Council’s net expenditure was set at £9.9m for 2011/12, a decrease of £633,000 or 6% on last year’s original budget. A five-year £8.5m capital programme will continue to 2015/16, including nearly £3m being spent on improving peoples’ homes to enable them to continue living at home, rather than in care.
Other commitments set out by the Council for 2011/12 include:
External grants – continuation of the availability of grants for local voluntary organisations, with a total capital budget of £300,000 including £100,000 ring-fenced for Disabled Facilities Grants.
Improved waste and recycling services – with more opportunities for people to recycle, including the recent introduction of food waste collections and free, optional garden waste collections.
Continuing investment in affordable homes - £700,000 set aside for the next year.
Continuation of investment in flood defence works
Continuation of support for local businesses and the tourism industry – building upon recent successes such as the opening of Marriotts Walk and expansion of the Woolgate Centre in Witney, the opening of a new Visitor Information Centre in Burford and helping to ensure that West Oxfordshire continues to have the lowest unemployment rate in South East England.
Continuation of free car parking – in all 16 Council-owned car parks across the District, which the Council believes supports trader, residents and the local community.
Cllr Simon Hoare, Cabinet Member for Resources, said: “This is not a budget about redundancies, slash and burn, kneejerk reactions or service cuts. It is a budget that illustrates our careful planning over the years and, more recently in the past two to three years, which has enabled us to continue to get the maximum bang for every single taxpayer’s buck.
“It is a budget with headlines of Council Tax frozen, grants maintained and efficiencies delivered. This is good news for taxpayers and all residents in West Oxfordshire.”
Cllr Norton said a key issue in this year’s budget had been grants to external organisations and the Council had faced difficult decisions as to whether or not to reduce these in line with its own funding reductions from government.
He said: “We are pleased that key voluntary sector organisations will be protected from damaging grants cuts next year as tough times are set to continue. This will give these organisations breathing space to identify new funding streams that will help to deliver the Big Society aims throughout West Oxfordshire – something they have been doing for a number of years and upon which perhaps the Coalition government has modelled its approach. Ultimately these organisations, like this Council, will need to deliver ‘more for less’ but we will try to help them achieve this where by continuing our supportive approach where possible”
Residents will receive their annual Council Tax bill during March. More information about Council is available on the Council’s website, www.westoxon.gov.uk/counciltax or by calling 01993 861040.
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