Our intention to deliver a lower council tax was made in our 2007 manifesto, which said we would aim to set a council tax increase under inflation each year.
Linking to September RPI guaranteed that pensioners in particular would end up being better off, year on year – it’s often their biggest bill and with a fixed income and low interest rates we are trying to make a difference to the old tradition of ever-increasing council tax bills.
With September 2009 RPI at -1.4%, an absolute cut was therefore required.
Without needing any front line service cuts – no silver bullet – by October we’d found £6.2m of savings to put into our programme. It might be easier to make service cuts to find savings, but we’re making savings by smarter budgeting and a lot of options considered and discarded. On top of this, we have cost factors, such as a swiftly rising (but important) safeguarding budget, that emerged after the case of Baby P.
We’ve incentivised our officers to examine their budgets since last summer, and by making it clear that we won’t accept cuts to front line services, or unacceptable hikes in fees and charges, have forced the pace on real organisational change in the back office.
There are no big hikes in our charges, no spending of reserves, and no cuts to front line services. In fact, we’ve introduced new parking discounts, increased our revenue contribution to the capital budget, and enhanced front line services including fulfilling a manifesto pledge to double the number of our community wardens.
The resulting budget has delivered us a 4% reduction in Council Tax, which we are passing on to our residents in full – they will be over £40 a year better off at Band ‘D’.