Council Budget 2020

Status: Past

Have your say on our budget for 2020/21.

UPDATE:  We had 448 responses by 31 January, including 10 local organisations. 81% supported a rise to Council Tax by some amount. 5% supported going to referendum to raise by more than £5.  53% supported raising by £5. 23% supported raising by 2% (less than £5). 20% did not support a Council Tax rise.  Comments on the budget and Council Tax were reported. 

We did some research on the most valued services and the top 10 are:

  • Waste and recycling collection
  • Beaches and seafronts
  • Street cleaning
  • Public toilets
  • Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour
  • Litter bins, dog bins
  • Tackling environmental crime, such as fly tips
  • Car parks
  • Environmental health services
  • My Alerts

We asked, if we had to change how we deliver services because of the budget, what new arrangements would residents be prepared to consider.  Of course, this was in principle and initial thoughts, because we hadn’t looked at the options and had no proposals at the time of consultation. 

  • 73% would consider services delivered in partnership with other councils,
  • 35% would consider charging more were charges applied,
  • 33% would consider devolving services to other organisations,
  • 18% would consider reducing a service. 
  • Only 7% would consider stopping a service.

Answers to frequently asked questions are at the end of this article.

Background

In setting the budget and Council Tax for the year ahead, councils are required by law to undertake public consultation. 

Local government finances can be complicated and are informed by several different funding streams.   In recent years, the Government have begun to remove the grants it gave to local authorities and have expected them to make up the difference or reduce the cost of their services. 

How has this affected Rother District Council

The loss of government funding and escalating costs means we must find £3.2 million of extra income and savings in order to balance our budget.

Despite the financial challenges, we have real ambitions for the area.  Recently, our Cabinet have made two important commitments:

To accelerate the delivery of new housing in the district by building 1,000 new homes over the next 15 years.

These will be a mix of homes for sale, part owned/rented and for affordable rents.

To deliver a carbon neutral district by 2030 after having declared a climate emergency at its meeting on 16 September 2019.

We are now planning how we can achieve these commitments whilst ensuring, as a district council, that we live within our means.

Why have our costs gone up so much?

  • Globally costs have risen in the waste and recycling industry. This has affected our new waste collection and street cleaning contract which is going to cost around £2m more than was forecast.
  • The number of homeless people and families in our district coming to the Council for help has risen substantially. This means we are spending more on providing emergency and temporary homes.
  • We are having to use our savings to protect services which means we have invested less and this has affected the income we would expect to receive from investments.
  • We have been unable to increase Council Tax in line with our costs.

You can read more detail on costs and plans:

Cabinet agenda for 13 January 2020 – Draft Revenue Budget report – https://rother.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=153&MId=181&Ver=4

You can read more detail on costs and plans in the Overview and Scrutiny committee report on the Medium Term Financial Strategy at its meeting on 25 November 2019 that is found here – https://rother.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=154&MId=161&Ver=4

Also on the Cabinet agenda for 2 December 2019 https://rother.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=153&MId=179&Ver=4

What are we doing about this?

Since 2015 we have been changing the way we work to make it more efficient and more cost effective and as a result we have made savings or raised income to the value of £1.8 million. We did this by:

  • Increasing our income from commercial properties by £673,000 in 2019 so we know this works.
  • Streamlining our processes and introducing new systems that allow us to work quicker and more efficiently.
  • Reducing lower priority, non-essential services or finding other organisations to provide them which created savings .

But we need to do more. To meet our savings target for the next financial year we will:

  • Introduce charges for some discretionary services we provide.
  • Increase our income through our property investment strategy (we forecast an increase by £454,000 in 2020).
  • Continue to streamline our processes and update systems to find efficiency savings of £90,000 in 2020 and a further £90,000 in 2021.
  • Continue to reduce low priority or non-essential services or finding other organisations to provide them. This could see savings of £100,000 in 2020 and another £150,000 in 2021.
  • Look at sharing services with other authorities as we successfully do now for Environmental Health, Building Control and Legal Services. We will also look at devolving or transferring services to other organisations. These could help us reduce our staffing structure and we aim to save £500,000 per annum
  • Raise our share of the Council Tax by 2% (£3.59) or possibly £5 a year (based on a Band D property) if the Government allow us to.

Even with these plans we will not close our funding gap. We will need to use around £2million from our reserves (savings) to help fill the gap between our income and our expenditure, while we continue to make more savings and raise our income over the following years. This will help us gradually reduce the amount we need to take from our reserves to balance the budget.

Council Tax

This consultation is limited to the part of the Council Tax that is kept by Rother District Council, about 10% of your bill.  Although you pay your bill to Rother District Council, most of what you pay goes to East Sussex County Council, the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and your parish or town council, if you live outside Bexhill-on-Sea.

If the Government allows District Councils to raise their Council tax by £5 for a Band D property, this means a resident in a Band D property would pay £184.45 for the whole year to Rother District Council, compared to £179.45 at present. This will give us an additional £191,000 each year in income which help towards the £3.2m target.

If your home is in a different Council Tax band to Band D, the table below shows what you will pay if not in receipt of a Council Tax reduction.

Council Tax ChangesABCDEFGH
Increase on 2019/20£3.33£3.89£4.44£5£6.11£7.22£8.33£10
Proposed Council Tax for Rother District Council (Total)£122.97£143.46£163.96£184.45£225.44£266.43£307.42£368.90

If we wanted to raise the Council Tax by more than 2% (or £5) we would have to hold a local referendum to raise the Council Tax. Recognising the impact on household finances, the Council has not previously supported increasing the Council Tax above the referendum limit.  In addition, to hold a referendum across the District would cost around £80,000.   So, for next year, we are not proposing this.

We want to hear your views how much we should raise council tax by, if at all, and also which services you value most. To help understand how you feel about this we have asked some specific questions in our online response form.

What Does Rother District Council Do

Here are the main services your district council provides.  Some of these services Rother District Council must provide because there are laws saying it is our responsibility.  This is called statutory.  Some services the Council provides are not required by law.  We do these to help maintain or improve the quality of life for people living and working in the district. These services are called discretionary.  One proposal to balance our budget is to find savings by looking at the options for future service delivery (below).  We don’t have a list of which service we will investigate yet.  We would like to hear what others have to say first, before short listing.

Types of statutory services:

  • > Waste and recycling collection from your home
  • > Street cleaning, litter bins and dog bins
  • Planning services, including development management (planning permission) and our Local Plan, local land charge searches, tree preservation orders, conservation areas and design standards
  • Environmental health services including food safety, health and safety, reducing pollution (contaminated land, noise, etc.) and licensing (for example taxis, licensed premises, gambling, charity collections)
  • Helping the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, housing register for social housing
  • Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour
  • Tackling environmental crime such as fly tipping, littering and graffiti
  • Paying housing benefit and a Council Tax reduction for very low income households.

Some of the discretionary services we provide include:

  • Small, neighbourhood recycling sites such as at supermarkets
  • Providing some green spaces, parks and playgrounds
  • Leisure centres and swimming pools
  • Public toilets
  • Supporting tourism, jobs, economic development and regeneration
  • Supporting leisure, arts, sports, health and cultural activities, events and venues, including local museums
  • Providing car parks
  • Advice, guidance and access to our service on our website, weekly emailed updates from My Alerts and our Facebook page and other social media

Our current budgets for our services

If you want to see the budgets for 2019/20 please here to Budgets and accounts for the 2019 Budget Book.

Options

We are considering some options that could bring savings for delivery of our services.  We plan to save at least £100,000 in 2020 and £150,000 in 2021, as well as saving £500,000 in staff costs, by choosing different delivery options for some of the services listed above. There will be more savings in following years.  No change is not an option because we have to make savings.  Reducing costs to the Council will help protect other essential services.  We have NOT decided on which options to look into and for which services.  We want to hear what you say first, before deciding which options and which services.  The options are in our online questionnaire (see below).

How to Take Part in this Consultation

This consultation closed on Friday 31st January 2020


Frequently Asked Questions from Those Answering the Consultations

Q: Will there be savings for RDC when Bexhill has its own town council?

A:

We don’t know and we won’t know until the new town council is elected.  Once elected they will have to agree their priorities and what they want to do.  There is a consultation coming up shortly on the Bexhill Governance Review and there will be more information available then.

Q: Could certain projects be crowd funded or lottery funded? Could the council run its own lottery? Could you stop certain projects and use that money to run services?

A:

We look at all options and we’ve looked into crowd funding.  But, crowd funding is best suited to raise a few thousands pounds, for a one-off funding, in a short time period.  It is suited to a community group using crowd funding to get match funding for grants, for example.  Usually the district council’s role is as the grant giver.  Our projects are much bigger and too long a time period.   We’ve been independently advised that crowd funding is very unlikely to work for us in our current projects.  Maybe one day we will do it, for the right project.

We do apply for funding grants that are available to local authorities, including lottery funding e.g. Heritage Lottery .  We don’t always get it; there is fierce competition.  A handful of councils run local lotteries but mainly to help them supply community grants, which is the Council giving out grants to local groups and organisations to put on an event, buy some equipment, etc.

These options are not a solution for paying for running our day to day services in either the short or long term.  See below.

Q: Could you stop certain projects and use that money to run services?

A:

There is a difference between our revenue budget and the capital budget.  We are consulting on the revenue budget, which is the money that comes in and pays for our services day to day, year after year.  Capital, one-off projects are using our savings to make investments in the area.   Capital projects are to make the area a better place to live – more jobs for local people, more infrastructure, more housing, better leisure, health, modernising and smarter, help tourism and so on.  Cutting capital projects will not help fund running our main services.  Let’s say there is enough money by cutting one project to keep a service we would otherwise have reduced or stopped.  Possibly, it might pay to keep it running for one or two years and then the money would be all gone.  The service would be cut anyway.  And, we wouldn’t have made the improvements or investments into Rother that the original project would have brought. Having said that, we are proposing to use £2 million from our reserves (savings) in 2020 to balance the budget.  We will continue to use a lesser amount each year from reserves that will reduce as we’ve made savings and increased the money coming in.  This is not a long term solution.

Q: How can you ‘charge more’ for parks or tourist information points? How can I assess if backroom services would be better or cheaper if in a partnership or devolved?

A:

These are similar questions so are grouped together.  As we said in the questionnaire, we are not proposing anything for any service.  The options are asking whether or not you might be prepared to see that option taken.  This gives us a starting point for further investigation because we know what residents and other local organisations might be prepared to see.   We won’t know any details until later.  And, we’re not holding you to your opinion. You will be able to change your mind.

Q: How long will using reserves to balance budget be sustainable – in years?

A:

You can read more in our budget reports about our proposals on how much and for how many years.  There are links to the reports at the top of this article. They will continue to be updated with each new meeting that discusses the 2020 budget

Q: What happens to revenue generated by parking charges in the area?

A:

The income goes into our revenue budget and pays for repairs and maintenance of car parks, ticket machines and other items in and around car parks, staffing and does include supporting related services.

Q: Will staff cuts include a reduction in senior staff, senior managers? Is there a risk of losing all the frontline staff and none of the management?

A:

We won’t know the outcome for a while.  However, the two previous staff reductions since 2008 were from all levels, including the very top.

Q: Why have 2 councillors per ward? Won’t it save money to have fewer?

A:

The number of councillors, 1 or 2 for each ward, is set based on the number of residents they represent.  The number of councillors is determined by the Boundary Commission for England.  Every district councillor in England represents and works for roughly the same number of residents, give or take a few hundred either way.  Their work includes case-work supporting individuals and families, attending the council committees and representing the council with other local and regional bodies.  They are all volunteers and don’t get paid a wage, only allowances to help cover their expenses like travel, printing, taking time off work, childcare.  If they take on a role, like being a committee Chairman, they get a bit more allowance.  But, their expenses go up.  For example, they have to come into the Town Hall more often.  The amount of the allowances are independently assessed by another body who make recommendations to the Council.   In short, we can’t have fewer councillors so easily.  If we could, those left would have a lot more work to do.  Would that affect local democracy?  Such as making it harder to get people to become councillors, having less choice in elections, only wealthier people, only retired people are willing to be councillors, so less representative of the local electorate?  That’s already a national, regional and local challenge.

Q: Can you stop Council Tax reduction for second homes and holiday homes?

A:

There’s a job related second home discount. Other than that, there’s no such reduction.

Q: Why do you say tackling crime and anti-social behaviour? Surely, that is the responsibility of the police and not a district council?

A:

On the contrary, tackling crime and ASB is a legal obligation or a statutory service for all councils.  Rother District Council has to be a member of the Safer Rother Partnership, for example.