News release from 14/01/2019
A quarter of the money spent on services by South Cambridgeshire District Council is expected to be generated from the Council’s investments within five years.
The Council has announced the plans to offset cuts to national funding by investing to generate an income which will support services locally as part of publishing its proposed budget for 2019/20 and financial strategy up until 2023/24.
By the end of March 2024, Council investments are forecasted to return an income of just over £5 million a year which will be used to protect the services people want and need.
The Council already generates around £2 million a year, but Liberal Democrat councillors who took control of the Council in May, want to make sure that income is generated from a range of investments so there is a balanced portfolio delivering on the needs of people in the district. In the past income had mainly been generated from Ermine Street Housing – the Council’s private sector housing company.
Leading councillors have said that they must invest to balance the books and protect services, but also want to ensure that investments make a positive contribution to the area.
Investments could include investing to help provide space for small and growing businesses which will fill a recognised gap and make a return for the Council. This will also help create businesses grow and create new jobs for local people.
The Council also wants to invest to deliver improvements in communities that have not been delivered commercially by the private sector. This could help deliver more homes or facilities for communities or improve the green credentials of a development to make sure it is of the highest standard.
The Council recently demonstrated its green commitments by unanimously pledging to support an ambitious target of cutting local carbon emissions across the district to zero by 2050. Green investments are expected on the Council buildings to improve environmental standards deliver a financial return as well as the Council exploring new opportunities in the district.
Councillors have also stressed that they are keen to partner with the private sector to develop larger schemes, so the risks and profits can be shared. This may also give the opportunity to increase the levels of social housing delivered.
In the reports published today (Monday 14 January), a £5 per year increase in Council Tax for the average band D home is also proposed. This is the equivalent of 10 extra pence per week.
The Council’s average band D charge for 2019/20 is proposed to be £145.31, retaining its place as one of the lowest taxing district councils in the country.
Leading councillors have said that the Government’s Fair Funding Review, which is expected to reallocate money to councils who look after adult social care, and an expected cut in the money the Council will keep from business rates mean that it would store up future problems by not increasing Council Tax now.
Even with the proposed £5 annual increase next year, a further £3 million must be saved over the next five years.
The Council’s total budget it has available to spend on services in 2019/20 is nearly £21 million.
The Council’s business plan will also be discussed and agreed alongside its budget. The business plan sets out the areas the Council will focus on. Following a public consultation that closed earlier this month, almost 80% of people agreed with the priorities and areas of focus put forward. The four priorities put forward for consultation were, economic development, housing that is affordable for everyone to live in, climate and environment and a 21st century council.
The Council’s Scrutiny and Overview Committee will be reviewing the consultation responses next week and making recommendations to Cabinet in advance of the detailed business plan being finalised and discussed by all councillors at the budget setting meeting on 21 February.
South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Lead Member for Finance, Cllr John Williams (pictured - above), said: “This administration is determined to not just make business investments to help fund and retain services for our communities in the face of hard national cuts to our funding. We want to take a different approach and invest where we can also make a positive contribution to the communities we serve. For example, we know that there are gaps in availability of suitable spaces for small and growing businesses and we think we can invest to help fill some of those. This will turn a profit for us to reinvest in core services but also help businesses thrive. Economic development is one of the areas people have told us they want us to focus on and we know we can help create new jobs for local people.
“Although we are on a sound financial footing, we also recognise the challenges forthcoming changes to Government policy may give us in balancing the books. If we were not to increase Council Tax by a small amount now we would be storing up problems later down the line which would increase the risk of us needing to cut services which is something our communities have told us they do not want.”
Cllr Bridget Smith (pictured - above), Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said: “We are really grateful for the feedback we had from our communities on the priorities we plan to focus on. We are now assessing all that information before finalising it for Councillors to discuss next month. We want the plan to stretch us as this will make sure we serve the people we represent in the best way possible.
“I was really pleased to see the overwhelmingly positive response during the consultation to our ambitious plans to do more than ever before to protect the environment as we want South Cambridgeshire to be green to its core. This will range from stepping up our efforts to tackle fly tipping and diverting waste from landfill, to looking for ways we can make homes more efficient, so they are cheaper to run and therefore affordable for everyone to live in.”