West Northamptonshire Council budget: Draft report for 2023 - 2024 suggests almost five percent council tax increase
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A proposed council tax increase has been included in West Northamptonshire Council’s (WNC) draft budget for 2023-2024.
The draft budget has been published ahead of a cabinet meeting on Tuesday (December 20) and refers to the financial year that runs from April 2023 to April 2024.
When the budget was first looked at there was a small underspend highlighted, which is referred to as a “very encouraging start to the financial management” in the report. However, the report goes on to say outside factors such as the war in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, the ongoing financial impact of the pandemic and more meant, at one point, an overspend of £58 million was identified.
Now the budget reports to be balanced with an estimated net revenue of £377.1 million, excluding the dedicated schools grant.
The draft budget report says: “It is clear that members have had to take some difficult decisions in order to deliver a balanced budget but services have been protected as far as possible and such decisions were required in order to deliver a balanced budget against the backdrop of the budget deficits being faced as a result of the external, national and global issues that were impacting upon the finances.”
The current financial year (2022-23) is forecasting a projected overspend of £3.7 million, which represents an overspend of around one percent of the council’s net budget for the year. This overspend has also been linked to the challenging, global economic times.
The report adds: “These issues have resulted in a much higher budget requirement than would be required in times of more stable economic conditions and have significantly increased the challenge of delivering a balanced budget for 2022-23 as well as the level of financial risk and complexity within the Medium-Term Financial Planning process as we look ahead.”
The draft budget for the next financial year proposes to increase council tax by 4.99 percent, which is the maximum limit set by the Government, without triggering a local referendum.
The average proposed increase on a Band D property across the area would be £80.50 per year or £1.55 per week.
However, due to the council tax harmonisation over a three-year period, which was agreed by the Shadow Authority in February 2021, the rates are set to be fully harmonised by the end of the financial year that this draft budget refers to. This means that the average Band D rate in the former Daventry and South Northamptonshire Districts will need to increase by more than 4.99 percent to reach harmonisation. How much more these residents would have to pay has not been published, as yet.
The increase in the former Northampton Borough Council area breaks down to a 2.99 percent increase to the core average council tax and a two percent increase for the adult and social care precept.
The report says the adult and social care increase will allow the authority to “further invest in the increasing costs of providing these services and where we saw a 30 percent increase in clients”.
The increase will contribute around £15.4m per year, which the council report says will be “utilised to protect local service provision”.
What council leaders say about the draft budget
Councillor Malcolm Longley, Cabinet Member for Finance at WNC said: “Proposing to raise council tax during a period of high inflation is a most difficult decision we have to consider, but as a major funding stream for our council, not doing so would mean having to look at more drastic measures that would impact on services residents rely upon to meet their everyday needs.”
Councillor Jonathan Nunn, Leader of WNC, added: “We know how difficult things are for everyone with the ongoing cost of living increases and the importance of ensuring next year’s budget continues to provide essential support and services to help residents through these hard times.
“It’s also crucial that as well as protecting frontline services we also continue to work towards delivering upon our ambitions for a better West Northants and invest where we can to do so.
“Putting this draft budget together has been far from easy but we are hopeful it strikes a fair balance in the light of our financial challenges and I would encourage people to have their say in the forthcoming public consultation.”
What Labour says about the draft budget
Danielle Stone, Labour councillor for the Castle Ward, said: "[Central] Government lost funding through bad decision making and has a huge amount of debt that they’re passing that onto local authorities who need to raise the council tax to meet the debts.
“I understand that council tax needs to keep pace with inflation. If it doesn’t, it does a huge amount of damage to the base budget. We saw that when Northamptonshire County Council froze council tax.
“What is bad is that we’re asking people who are already hit by the cost of living crisis to be paying more.
"I think there will be a lot of anger about it because it is coming at a time when people are scared about their energy bills and food prices increasing.
“I think the local authority ought to be bringing in fresh money to stop over-relying on council tax to balance the budget.”
Cllr Stone added that she is also concerned about cost saving measures in each service area including staffing, as she believes staff “will be under even more pressure next year”.
After the draft budget has been put to cabinet members at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday (December 20), a six-week public consultation will launch on Wednesday (December 21) to allow residents to have their say.
Cabinet will then consider the final budget for 2023-24 on February 13, 2023 for recommendation to the full council meeting on February 22, 2023.
Read the full draft budget on the council’s website here.