Boston Borough Council leader Coun Peter Bedford pens his latest column on council tax and finances...
I was interested to read your columnist’s observations on council tax and finances.
He suggested that some councils might receive more cash for their coffers by putting their council tax up by one or two per cent than they would get by receiving the freeze grant from Government for not increasing householders’ bills.
He is wrong. For Boston the facts are these – by not putting up council tax we receive the Government freeze grant, equal to a one per cent council tax rise. In our case one per cent brings in just over £29,000.
If we put up our council tax, as Observer suggests, by one per cent we’d gain… ABSOLUTELY NOTHING EXTRA. My view is that I’d sooner raid the pockets of Government for £29,000 than the pockets of hard-pressed Boston borough residents.
Of course a two per cent rise would bring in two times £29,000, but because we would not then get the Government freeze grant we’d still only be better off to the tune of £29,000.
The maths are simple, as is the logic - £29,000 from residents, or £29,000 from Government.
There are other reasons why we do not want to increase council tax this year. This will be the fourth year running that we have not increased it; four years during one of the worst recessions in our history. The council is aware of how tough, financially, times have been for people living in the borough. Remember councillors and council staff live here too, so they have the same experiences as everyone else. In this instance we really are all in it together.
The money the council needs to run the services residents need and use comes from an annual Government grant, from council tax and from some service charges. Because of the state of the nation’s finances the Government grant has been severely reduced. Such a reduction in income would have taxed the most robust of businesses, but the council has so far weathered that storm and done that without laying off staff and reducing frontline services.
The easy option for the council would have been to just hike up council tax. We chose not to take the easy option and instead, with the support of loyal and hard-working staff, we have operated smarter and better, doing more with less. Like everyone, the council had to cut its cloth accordingly.
Boston Borough Council is a well-run council. Independent auditors are satisfied that it offers value for money and has proper arrangements for securing financial resilience and is challenging how it secures economy, efficiency and effectiveness. The auditors recognised the robustness of the council and its solid footings facing a forward challenging and changing economy.
Since austerity measures really began to bite in 2009/10 our transformation programme has saved, to date, £2,432,732. Ideas to save money and improve and transform services for the future came in from staff and good practice elsewhere and continue to come in, resulting in a rolling programme. We aim to save another £1,790,000 over the next five years. When you consider the council operates on a total budget of just over £9 million it is an amazing achievement and one any business would be proud of.
Despite further reductions this coming financial year in Government support we will refurbish public toilets, replace street-cleansing machinery and support the Broadband UK initiative.
We will still pursue Government for more money, and a fairer share of what’s available, and I and the chief executive will be meeting next month with our MP Mark Simmonds, and Brandon Lewis MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, at the House of Commons to press for more money for Boston in recognition of the actual size of its expanding population.