Unprecedented cuts in core government funding means that balancing the budget has been a constant challenge for West Devon Borough Council over the past few years.
This year, thanks to sound financial management, our successful Invest to Earn programme and some difficult decisions, the Council has not only managed to present a balanced budget and close a predicted budget gap of £440,000, but has also put money aside for key projects that support the Health and Wellbeing of the Borough.
West Devon's element of Council Tax bills will be increased by £5 per year - or 2.16%. This means that a Band D property would have paid £231.63 last year for West Devon's element of the Council tax, will pay £236.63 this year.
Cllr Neil Jory, Leader of West Devon Borough Council said: "Over the last few years we have worked incredibly hard, exploring different options for managing our money and closing the gap in our funding caused by the loss of our core government funding.
"Our Core funding has been reduced by around £3 million over the last few years. We now no longer receive any Core Government Grant Funding (known as Revenue Support Grant).
"But I am delighted to be able to say that the hard work is now paying off and that this year, we are able to invest in some vitally important projects.
"This year we have been able to allocate £4.3 million for two community housing schemes which we hope will provide around 30 new homes in West Devon.
"The Council is also allocating £780,000 for Disabled Facilities Grants, to enable less able residents to live independently within their own home.
"In recognition of the climate change and biodiversity emergency we have created a new two year temporary post in the organisation for a Climate Change Officer.
"To support our economic aims and drive forward our work under the theme of Enterprise, we are creating a new job for an Economy Officer. Both posts are shared equally with South Hams District Council.
"We are also mind full of the increasing pressures on the Town and Parish Council precepts. After some debate we have agreed to defer a proposed increase to the cost of emptying dog waste and litter bins until next year. A consultation will take place with those communities to work out the way of recovering the costs of this service."
The ongoing relationship with South Hams is one of the reasons why West Devon Borough Council has been able to manage its budget in such difficult times.
The council continues to make an annual saving of at least £2.2million by sharing its workforce and services with South Hams. Collaborating with them, and other Councils in Devon, on major contracts has also enabled the Council to make savings through economies of scale that entering into contracts on their own would not create.
The contract with Fusion Leisure for example, who now manage all of the leisure centres in West Devon and South Hams, has not only enabled the councils to make savings but has also seen improvements to the leisure facilities in all of the centres.
A recently renegotiated joint contract with FCC Environmental also saw the Council make savings of around £2 million during the lifetime of the new contract. Recently through that contract, the Council and FCC have rolled out a new and improved waste and recycling service with more materials now collected from the kerbside. Other initiatives to address the Climate Change and Biodiversity Emergency will follow.
The Council is increasingly taking a commercial approach to address much needed economic regeneration. Our commercial strategy is to develop our assets, or acquire new assets, with the aims of providing economic benefit as well as an ancillary revenue return to the Council, where possible. Our four commercial property acquisitions purchased in 2018/19 are now generating a net income stream for the Council of around £280,000 every year.
To further our strategy, the Council is now exploring Commercial investment in renewable energy as part of its plan to tackle the Climate Change and Biodiversity Emergency.
In addition to all of this, a recent review and restructure of the senior staff at the Council has resulted in an additional saving of just under £100,000 per year, and has produced a flexible and efficient management structure for the next phase of our development.
This year £150,000 has been allocated as the first step in upgrading the Council's IT systems. The Council will be installing a flexible and innovative solution that we believe will provides excellent value for money and will further improve both customer interaction and in-house efficiency.
Cllr Neil Jory Said: "This Council has always been at the forefront of change in the public sector; we were one of the first councils to share a Chief Executive, and we will continue to take innovative steps in order to provide the income we need to protect the delivery of services.
The Council continues to face considerable financial challenges as a result of uncertainty in the wider economy and constraints on public sector spending. Our annual net budget of £7.2 million is about the same amount of money an average secondary school has to spend each year. We have to make every penny count.
"This year, as in recent years, we will be increasing our portion of the Council Tax. Without Core Government Funding, Council Tax is the biggest proportion of the Council's income.
This year West Devon will be increasing their part of the Council Tax by £5 per year or 42 pence per month per household. This means a Band D household will pay £236.63 to West Devon Borough Council for 2020/21 to pay for the services the Council provides (out of an average total council tax bill for a Band D property of just over £2,000).
Cllr Jory concluded: "When you look at your Council Tax bill please remember that for every pound we collect, West Devon Borough Council only keeps 12 pence in every pound. This is because your Council Tax also funds your Town or Parish Council, Devon County Council, the Police and Fire services. When you look at it this way, the proportion of Council Tax we keep is small in comparison to the other services, and every penny we collect makes a big difference to our budget, and ultimately the services we are able to provide."
These services the Council provides include: Planning, environmental health, affordable housing, homelessness, waste and recycling, car parks, beaches, stray dogs, street naming and numbering, pest control, licencing, dog fouling, fly tipping, council tax, benefits, play parks, litter bins, street cleaning, tree preservations, bottle banks, elections, grass verges, heritage preservation, building maintenance, disabled facilities grants, event licencing, markets, community safety, Environmental Health (Private Sector Housing).
Services that West Devon Borough Council is not responsible for include: Potholes, schools, social care, recycling centres, roads, off street parking, traffic lights and street lamps.
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Link to Council Budget papers: