Tough decisions at budget setting time - but charities get a short reprieve.

Passionate words were spoken during West Devon Borough Council's annual budget setting meeting, as councillors felt the squeeze of local government cuts.

During the meeting, councillors did vote to increase Council Tax by the maximum that they are allowed to do so without a referendum, which is 2.99%, (On an average Band D Council Tax property this would be an increase of £6.52 for the year 2018/19), but they rejected proposals to cut discretionary grants for some local charities.

Cllr Philip Sanders, Leader of West Devon Borough Council, said: "It is getting tough, we all know that the grants to these charities will have to stop, but thanks to some one off financial windfalls this year, we have been able to give the charities another year to prepare themselves for when we will have to stop their funding. 

"All of our councillors recognise the incredible work that our charities do in our communities and during the meeting they fought hard to give the charities a bit longer to adjust their finances to take account of the reduced funding. They did this in the face of  the council's own financial difficulties that they know are coming."

This financial year the Council has received a little more Rural Services Delivery Grant than they anticipated, in recognition of the difficulties and extra costs facing rural councils. In addition to this, the Council has also been chosen to take part in a pilot scheme that the government is running to give councils access to more of the business rates that they collect. 

This means that for this financial year only, the Council will have a slight surplus.  But Cllr Sanders was very firm with his councillors in making them understand that this is a temporary situation and the predicted budget gap from the next financial year onwards is real and is not going away.

Cllr Sanders added: "There is no money tree or magic solution and we need to do what we can to try and cut our expenditure and increase our income.  The deficits that we are facing  in the future are shown cumulatively in the budget report and the law does not allow this Council to set a deficit budget, so we are going to have to deal with it through long term strategic financial planning.  We have achieved a balanced budget for this coming year but not for the medium term.

"It is important that our residents understand this and that any money we can save for this year, we need for next year and subsequent years."

At the meeting it was agreed that the proposed cuts to  Okehampton Community Transport Group, Tavistock Ring and Ride Group,  West Devon Community and Voluntary Service, Citizens Advice, Young Devon and South West Rotary Youth Games, will not take place this year. 

It was also agreed that Council Tax would increase by 2.99%.  Although West Devon Borough Council sends out and collects the whole Council Tax bill, only 12% of it actually goes to the Borough Council.  The remaining 88% goes to Devon County Council, the emergency services and the Town and Parish Councils.  This means that this year the Borough Council's element of Council Tax on an average Band D property will be £224.91 or just over £4.30 a week.

Other proposed changes that were agreed at the budget setting meeting include: closing the Okehampton Office, ceasing to accept cash and cheques at Council premises (excluding car parks), increasing parking charges (subject to the formal consultation process) and increases to some fees and charges.