Council Tax to rise but street lights will be back on as Harlow Council publish budget proposals

Politics / Thu 22nd Jan 2015 at 07:09pm

HARLOW’S street lights are set to be switched back on after Harlow Council outlined proposals to raise Council Tax by 1.5%, an increase costing the average Harlow household just an extra seven pence a week.

The proposed 1.5% increase will generate £100,000 which the Council plans to pay to Essex County Council to ensure that the town’s street lights are switched back on between 12midnight and 5am, seven days a week*.

Plans for the increase on Harlow Council’s share of Council Tax for 2015/16 will be recommended to Cabinet on 29 January 2015 and Council on 5 February 2015. The increase is part of the Administration’s budget proposals for 2015/16, which aim to meet residents’ priorities, respond to the Council’s budget consultation exercise, protect the services residents’ value and tackle significant reductions in the Council’s grant funding from central government.

Spending on services such as parks, playgrounds and grass cutting, tackling anti-social behaviour, regeneration and economic development, pavement and road repairs (maintained by Harlow Council), street cleaning and waste and recycling collections, has been protected following the Council’s public budget consultation held last summer. Significant investment to help the regeneration of Harlow is being proposed.

There are also no proposals to close or cut services, which would directly impact on residents or businesses. The budget proposes:

· The transfer of £1m to invest in economic regeneration to support local employment opportunities and improve the town’s infrastructure.

· Popular community services – The Playhouse, Paddling Pools and Pets’ Corner – will continue to be funded by the Discretionary Services Fund** for the next three years with the former Council-run Harlow Museum and the Gibberd Gallery receiving continued financial support for the next three years.

· For the second year running neighbourhood shopping car park fees frozen at the same level with the continuation of free parking for one hour.

· Funding for additional staff in Contact Harlow to better deal with customer enquiries.

· No compulsory redundancies.

As agreed in December 2014, the Council’s budget for 2015/16 will also see no increases in the basic Councillor allowances, which will stay at the same level it has been since 2011 and allowances paid to the Leader and Cabinet Portfolio Holders will be cut by 5%.

Government spending cuts compounded by rising costs, reduced income and rising demand for services means that the Council has to budget to save a total of £1.5 million in 2015/16. To help meet this gap, savings will be achieved through transferring further discretionary services to the Discretionary Services Fund including manager salaries, senior management team cost reductions and reductions on running expenses. More income is expected from garden waste collections, planning, commercial property and from the increased use of car parks. Income from garages rented to non-housing tenants will be transferred from the housing budget and will generate around £600,000 a year of net income to the General Fund Budget.

Councillor Jon Clempner, Leader of Harlow Council, said: “We have worked hard to propose a budget which addresses residents’ priorities and protects services from both closure or cuts. Last summer we carried out an extensive public consultation and we were determined to make sure we listened and responded to what the community told us. Spending on key priority areas for residents like parks, playgrounds, open spaces, tackling anti-social behaviour and street cleaning have been protected and we are investing in the regeneration of Harlow which is another priority for the community.

“This year’s Council Tax increase will be used to address a major concern for the community which is constantly raised by residents and that is turning Essex County Council street lights back on. The increase of 7p a week for the average Council Taxpayer in Harlow will generate £100,000 to cover the cost of the County Council turning the street lights on between midnight and 5am.”

Councillor Mike Danvers, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Resources, added: “We have looked at every single Council budget to see where money can be saved and see how we can fund services, protect jobs and meet residents’ priorities following last year’s public consultation. This year we have also managed to protect all services from closure and cuts which I don’t think will be the case for many other Councils. We are proposing a balanced budget while meeting significant cuts as a result of reduced grants from the Government.

“We are very aware that the Government’s on-going cuts in the funding of the Council means that tough decisions will continue to be taken in the coming years and we will continue to do what we can to protect those services which are most important to residents.

Council services are funded with money from Government grants, share of Council Tax and business rates and income from services. The Council’s Government grant, which funds nearly half (46%) of the Council’s services (not including Council housing), has reduced by nearly 50% from 2011 to 2014/15. When combined with the Government’s provisional funding level for 2015/16 this will mean that Harlow has seen a loss of over 65% in its centrally funded grant.

Although Harlow Council collects Council Tax on behalf of Essex County Council, Essex Police Crime & Commissioner and Essex Fire & Rescue Harlow Council only keeps £17 of every £100 collected. The rest goes to the other organisations.

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