Dorset Council expected to increase tax by three per cent amid budget pressures

DORSET Council’s budget for next year could have been worse – although residents will still face a three per cent increase in their council tax and a continued squeeze on services.

The authority has been helped by getting a larger than expected settlement from the government, although only for one year.

It will also see extra income because of a growth in the council’s tax base, related to population numbers, although this will only bring in an extra £400,000.

Residents and visitors are also expected to face an overall increase in fees and charges of about 2.5% although car parking and some other services will see bigger rises.

Councillors have been told that extra savings are also anticipated from what the authority describes as ‘transformational changes’ – where it continues to amalgamate services from the previous district and borough councils across Dorset.

Executive director for corporate development Aidan Dunn said the council is still facing uncertainty as it heads into the next financial year, with pressures from rising fuel prices, increased demand for adult and children’s services, and the risk of another lockdown, which could be coupled with bad winter weather.

Budget pressures will also come from the government-imposed increase in National Insurance contributions, while staff unions are currently asking for an above-inflation increase in pay which, if not met, could result in industrial action.

Mr Dunn says the council is projected to have a 6.1 per cent increase in its income next year, an additional £19.2million of spending power, which will partly be funded by council taxpayer paying a three per cent rise in council tax, pushing the average band D household payment for the council’s share up by £1.02 per week.

Figures for police, fire and rescue and town and parish councils will have to be added to this for most residents.

A total of £10million is being added to the council’s climate change capital budget next year with the authority also in the process of recruiting a new director to lead council climate change work and oversee the £750,000 revenue budget for the area.

There will be a 10 per cent increase in spending for adult social care, and a four per cent increase for children’s services.

An extra £750,000 is being invested to support the development of new homes with and the supply of better value temporary accommodation from the private rented sector.

Dorset Council’s Cabinet will consider the budget proposals in the meeting on January 18, and proposals will then be considered and voted on by all Dorset councillors at the full council meeting on February 15.

Cllr Gary Suttle, portfolio holder for Finance, Commercial and Capital Strategy, said: “These are responsible and carefully considered budget proposals, designed to ensure the council can continue to deliver vital services to meet the needs of our residents.

“We have robust plans to deliver efficiency and transformation savings so we can balance the council’s budget while avoiding cuts to essential frontline services.

“We continue to face an exceptionally difficult period due to the COVID pandemic and growing demand and price pressures. We are grateful to government for the better than anticipated financial settlement for next year, but we really need multi-year settlements so we can plan for the longer term.

“My colleagues and I are lobbying government for fairer funding for Dorset. As a big rural council with a large elderly population, we face higher costs than many other councils. Yet we have been historically under-funded by government.

“This is something that needs to change so we can reduce the burden on local council taxpayers.”

By Local Democracy Reporter Trevor Bevins 

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