Cost of council tax freezes mounts up

W03046H14-TownHall''Worthing Town Hall     Adur and Worthing  district council  Chapel Road   Worthing ENGSUS00120140115173716
W03046H14-TownHall''Worthing Town Hall Adur and Worthing district council Chapel Road Worthing ENGSUS00120140115173716

CONTINUING to freeze council tax could force Worthing Borough Council to find savings of more than £6million in five years’ time, a report has revealed.

Reducing support from central government will make it increasingly difficult for the authority to resist upping the tax, as it has for an historic five years.

Council officers estimate extending the policy could lead to a shortfall of £6.3million in 2020/21 – £839,000 more than if residents faced two per cent yearly increases.

Worthing Liberal Democrat leader Keith Sunderland believes it may be time to consider raising council tax.

He said: “If central government is determined to reduce funding, then we have to make some decisions locally about the sort of society we want.

“Penalising the low pay and disabled is simply wrong. We all need to contribute to the society according to how much we can afford. Raising council tax might be a solution.”

The council has managed to absorb the costs of freezing council tax over the past five years, with the government partially compensating councils for doing so.

But the level of support has reduced and is expected to further decrease.

A rise of more than two per cent would currently trigger the need for the council to hold a referendum.

A council spokesman said it was committed to keeping council tax low and had found various savings to compensate.

He said: “The councils have worked hard to find savings over the past five years by sharing services, reviewing senior management costs and ensuring that services are being delivered as efficiently as possible.

“We will continue to seek further efficiency savings but inflationary pressures are such that we cannot commit to freezing council tax forever.”

A two per cent increase, as budgeted for in a report to the Joint Strategic Committee last week, would equate to an extra 21p per week for a Band D property.

Any increase would require approval from cabinet members.

In recognition of the expected financial pressures, the council is working to become ‘master of its own destiny’, moving to a position where the reliance on council tax and grants from the Government is significantly reduced by the end of the decade.

As part of this approach, the council hopes to improve its approach to bidding for grants from national and international funds.

Improving online services and making them more efficient is another aim.

The spokesman said: “(We are aiming for) a far more strategic approach to identifying - and winning - development growth grant bids from national and international funds, allowing the councils to achieve more for the benefit of their communities without using core funds from council tax.

“An example here would be the monies secured for the Adur Tidal Walls project and sustainable transport improvement package for Worthing through the Regional Growth Fund.”