Sue Carpendale and Kathy Pollard, Babergh District Councillors
In this report:
- Babergh Budget and Council Tax freeze
- Housing Revenue account and rents
- Babergh adopts its 20 year Planning Blueprint
- Shared Ownership and Affordable Housing Events – Stowmarket and Hadleigh
- Supporting Futures – careers guidance for schools
- Babergh Community Achievement awards
Babergh Budget and Council Tax freeze
The council has voted not to raise the council tax again this year. Over the past two years Babergh has had a big cut in core funding from Government and this is reducing by a further 12.3% in 2014/15. The council will spend £10.051m in the next financial year – a £90,000 increase on the current year. This assumes income from: a further £325,000 of savings; £2.256m rate support grant; £1.9m business rates; £4.554m council tax and the use of £1.215m from the New Homes Bonus. £187,000 is being made available in grants to parishes for local council tax relief. There are some additional small grants to Babergh including £49,000 from Government which is the equivalent of a 1% council tax rise. General reserves at the end of March 2015 are estimated at £1.143m.
Because of additional grants and finance from the New Homes Bonus, overall spending power has only reduced by 1.9%. Looking ahead to 2015/16, the Government’s indication is that funding for Babergh will reduce by a further 15.4% and over the next four years is likely to drop to zero. This is a very volatile situation for the Council. Many fear that failure to raise council tax within the 2% limit each year, could prove very costly in the next few years. The impact of such a rise would be around 5p a week for a Band D property. Current forecasts are that Babergh will need to save, generate income or produce a return on investments of around £5.4m over the next 4 years to meet the forecast budget gap within the General Fund. The key to making up this shortfall is economic growth – both through attracting new businesses and building new homes
Housing Revenue account and rents
On 1st April 2012 the council’s Housing Revenue Account became self financing. Previously national government had provided grants for council housing repairs, etc and “creamed off” surpluses in income from housing rents. This made long term planning difficult for local councils. So councils have been forced to effectively buy back their own council housing, and they’ve had to borrow in order to do this. In Babergh’s case this has meant long term borrowing of £89.6m. Any reductions in projected rent income will cause a loss to the council and affect its business plan. Risks include: Government changes to the rent increase formula, the impact on income levels as a result of the Government’s Welfare Reforms and increased levels of Right to Buy sales. In June 2013 Government changed the formula guidance, which will have a detrimental impact on rental income in the longer term. Welfare changes are also impacting on revenue. We need to safeguard income, and enable us to build more social housing – currently there are 1183 people on the social housing waiting list in the Babergh area. Rents this year have increased by more than we would have wished, but the intention is to stabilise revenue in the future. There will however be a fund to assist tenants as appropriate.
Babergh adopts its 20 year Planning Blueprint
Babergh has finally been able to adopt its planning “Core Strategy” which lasts until 2031. The recent delay was caused by a change to proposals for Brantham, which required additional work by the Planning Inspectorate. Work began in earnest on the new Core Strategy early in 2009. Since then a number of major planning changes have occurred at national level and the draft strategy had to be modified accordingly. The Mid Samford ward (comprising Capel St. Mary, Stratford St. Mary, Holton St. Mary and Little and Great Wenham) is deemed to relate to two “functional clusters” – Capel St Mary and East Bergholt. Policy CS6, Strategy for Development in Core and Hinterland Villages, is particularly relevant to this ward, since 40% of new development in Babergh is proposed to be in these more rural areas. In addition to planning permissions already granted, for example at Chilton near Sudbury, and a “windfall” figure of 750 homes for the second half of the plan period (2021 – 2031) provision will also be made for 2,500 new dwellings to be built across Babergh District. “Windfall” dwellings include infill on existing housing plots, conversion of, for example, former agricultural buildings and housing built on redundant industrial land.
Information about the process so far can be found here. The Core Strategy document should appear on the website shortly.
Shared Ownership and Affordable Housing Events – Stowmarket and Hadleigh
The Strategic Housing officers for Babergh and Mid Suffolk have been holding shared ownership and affordable housing drop in events for the local community in Stowmarket and Hadleigh. The event in Hadleigh takes place on March 20th at Hadleigh Town Hall and is for people who would like to buy a house but can’t afford to get onto the housing ladder. Contact Louise Barker 01449 724787.
Supporting Futures – careers guidance for schools
Babergh and Mid Suffolk recently held a morning’s workshop for teachers, careers advisers, councillors and expert speakers with a view to improving the careers education, information, advice and guidance presently available to children in our schools. Employers are being asked to become much more involved in helping young people so they can develop employability skills and make successful career choices. Key messages from the workshop included: careers guidance should be offered through from the ages of 13 to 18 – as well as engaging with children at primary school to introduce them to new fields and work options; work experience is not working effectively and needs revision; the demise of the Saturday job has robbed many children of opportunities to develop skills and attitudes of great future value; parents need help to lobby schools for greater provision and to support their children in preparing them for the world of work. Needless to say – the lack of resource, and the already heavy burden on schools, are a source of concern, as is the rural nature of our county and the lack of transport and access to training opportunities.
Babergh Community Achievement awards
Babergh’s award scheme, which has been running for over 20 years, aims to highlight the work of those individuals and groups who make a real difference by giving up their time for the benefit of their local schools and communities. All winners have been notified and invited to a special awards ceremony to celebrate their achievement, and to receive their awards on Thursday 3 April 2014. Mid Samford’s winner this time in the category “selfless service by an individual (over 18) to a voluntary body or to the community” is Mr Donald Umfreville of Stratford St Mary. For the past 30 years Don has volunteered for and supported several community groups in Stratford St Mary. He was Church Warden for several years and was a founder member of both the Ramblers Club & Bowls Club. And even though he is now 80 years old he still helps out at the Carpet Bowls Club, Ramblers Club and is chairman of the Parish Room Committee and newly formed First Responders Group.