Councils are setting their annual budgets this month, with a third of authorities reportedly increasing council tax.
Here in Bedford Borough we have already agreed the budget, with support from all parties for our plans which involve a third successive average Council tax freeze. We have worked hard to achieve this freeze, because in spite of the unprecedented financial pressures facing the Council and the larger-than-average reduction in funding from government, we have made supporting hard-pressed local households a priority.
So, with such large funding reductions from the government and pressures such as rising demand for services, how have we reversed the previous trend set by the former County Council of punishing, inflation-busting rises year after year?
Firstly, I should stress that we haven’t done it using a number of the tricks or stealth charges seen elsewhere. For example, we haven’t sent car park charges spiralling. Instead we are delivering a third straight car park charge freeze for shoppers to support our town centre.
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Nor are we hitting the vulnerable or those on lowerincomes, which sadly cannot be said in a great number of areas elsewhere. Some of our near neighbours are increasing council tax for the very least well-off by over £400, while freezing tax for everyone else.
The £10 million funding gap we needed to close to make the books balance was addressed through a rigorous drive to identify savings from the back office and a relentless focus on protecting the front line. That savings drive has enabled us to freeze average council tax whilst continuing to save important front-line services for residents which are so commonly being lost elsewhere such as libraries, children’s centres, weekly bin collections and rural bus services.
Investment in the future of our Borough is vital too, of course, hence the allocation of £38 million for new schools and school building extensions over four years, and the £8.8 million fund for the crucial regeneration of the bus station area. These projects will, just like the average tax freeze and protection of services, make a real, positive difference for current and future residents of