LYME Regis residents are expected to see a hike in their Council Tax bill in the next financial year.
Council Tax is the charge made to every household for local services provided by Dorset Council, the town council, Dorset Police and Dorset & Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service, with each authority setting its own precept (its portion of the Council Tax bill) every year.
For the first time in several years, Lyme Regis Town Council has agreed to increase its precept by 10 per cent in the 2020/21 financial year, which begins in April.
Dorset Council is also expected to increase its portion of the bill, and Dorset Police is currently consulting residents on whether they would be willing to pay more additional officers.
The town council this week gave final approval to a 10 per cent increase in its precept for the next financial year. This will be the first time the town council has increased its precept for eight or nine years, which town clerk John Wright described as “quite a feat”, adding that Lyme Regis was probably one of very few councils in the country that had held its precept at the same level for such a long period.
However, as the town prepares for the likelihood of taking on more responsibilities and assets from the new Dorset Council, members agreed they should increase the precept for 2020/21.
The council currently raises a total of £120,708 from the precept – less than it has given out in grants in previous years – and this will increase to £132,779.
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, questioned in recent weeks whether it was necessary to raise the precept, saying the additional £12,000 raised would only “scratch the surface” of the council’s overall budget, but he was out-voted.
At this week’s meeting, when the decision was given final approval, he tried to reassure residents that the 10 per cent increase “should not send alarm bells”.
‘Essential budget increases’
Dorset Council has now announced it is also proposing to increase its precept by almost four per cent in order to cover “essential budget increases” for adult social care and children’s services.
Lyme’s Dorset Council representative Daryl Turner announced the news at this week’s town council meeting, saying the precept was “already one of the highest in the country”.
The new unitary authority is planning to increase its budget for adult social care by £11.7million in 2020/21 to meet the forecast demand for older and disabled people, and its budget for children’s services by £10.3million to support for children with complex needs and those in care.
Dorset Council is currently forecasting an overspend of £8.2million in its first year of operation, which it says is largely due to unprecedented and growing levels of demand for social care services, which, in turn, is the result of population changes such as more people living longer with chronic and complex conditions, and an increase in diagnosis of children’s special educational needs and disabilities.
Since 2010, central government grants to councils have been cut by nearly 60 per cent. Dorset Council no longer receives any Revenue Support Grant from central government and this loss of funding has placed significant pressure on councils nationally.
In order to help fund the proposed increases for adult social care and children’s services, Dorset Council proposes an increase in its Council Tax precept of 3.996 per cent. Of this increase, two per cent is the social care precept agreed by government in the September spending review to help fund growing demand for social care. This would generate £9.6million of additional income.
However, the Council Tax increase will not fully cover the forecast increased social care costs, so in order to balance the budget the council will also need to continue making substantial reductions in its expenditure, which it says it will do “without affecting the delivery of frontline services”.
Councillor Spencer Flower, leader of Dorset Council, said: “We would of course prefer not to raise Council Tax. However, we are left with no choice due to a steady decline over recent years in the overall funding from central government and the rising cost of adult social care and children’s services.
Lobbying central government
“The alternative would be to cut discretionary services such as libraries, highways and parks which neither I nor my colleagues wish to do.
“As an advocate for Dorset, over recent months I have lobbied government for fairer funding – particularly for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and social care. As a result, we did secure a much needed additional £10million funding from government in the autumn spending review. I will continue to make the case for Dorset with government throughout the coming year.
“We have a statutory obligation to deliver many of our services. Looking after our most vulnerable residents is very important to us. And it is also important that we achieve a balanced budget through efficiency, not cuts.”
The budget proposals will be discussed by Dorset Council’s Scrutiny Committees on January 13 and its Cabinet on January 28, before going to full council on February 18 for final approval.
Dorset Police is also considering an increase in its Council Tax precept. Police & Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill is currently seeking the views of residents on whether they would be willing to pay an extra £1.25 a month to provide more police officers across the county.
Mr Underhill commented: “This year is unlike any seen before. Because of the General Election’s unusual timing we don’t yet know how much central funding, which provides more than half of the force’s budget, we’ll be getting from the government.
“I know many of you expect me to take a prudent approach to finances and so, rather than rush this consultation through at a later date, I’m asking for what the force requires now.
“An extra £1.25 a month – based on an average band D property – will deliver a prudent budget and achieve our ambitions of recruiting 50 extra officers to help keep people safe.
“We’ve all heard the national announcements about extra officers. Of course I welcome this, and it does provide a great opportunity for Dorset, but the investment is long overdue and there is still uncertainty as the announcement only covers the first of a three-year recruitment cycle.
“Recruiting and training additional officers comes with a significant extra cost, which is not being met by the government, and it’s essential we make sure the force can pay for this.
“Meanwhile Dorset Police continues to be affected by the impact of nine years of austerity. As well as real-terms cuts to funding, there have been cost increases to UK policing, including nationally agreed salary increases and pension liabilities, while levels of demand have soared.
“So, to enable Dorset Police to maintain its current service, invest in extra officers, and ensure they can protect the county’s residents from emerging risks, I am asking for an additional £1.25 a month.”
Residents can share their views on Dorset Police’s proposed increase online at https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/dorsetalert
Dorset and Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service has not yet announced its budget proposals for the 2020/21 financial year.