BAND D households will face an increase of £7.37 a year for their borough council services, the authority decided this week, amounting to an increase of 14p a week or 2.99%.

West Devon Borough Council has laid out its plans for how it will cope with the financial challenges of the year ahead, while, it says, doing everything in its power to help vulnerable people through the cost of living crisis.

On Tuesday the full council heard proposals on how the authority would set a balanced budget for 2023/24. To balance the budget of £8.58m, the council has identified a number of savings and created additional income, but is still forecasting a £0.22m budget gap by 2024/25.

Councillors agreed to a small increase in council tax of £7.37 per year, amounting to an increase of 14p per week. This means a Band D property would pay £254 next year (2023/24) to the borough council for all of its services.

Changes to Government funding over the last ten years means the council no longer receives any government grant (Revenue Support Grant), a loss of £3m per year, so the council has to be self-sufficient to fund all of its services.

However, the council says it continues to face considerable financial challenges as a result of uncertainty in the wider economy and constraints on public sector spending.

A difficult few years, with the Covid-19 pandemic and rise in energy and fuel costs have put added pressure on the finances of councils up and down the country, including West Devon Borough Council.

The council has continued to work in partnership with South Hams District Council which has allowed West Devon to achieve annual savings of £2.2m and more importantly, protect front line services.

The budget agreed will leave the council on a stable financial footing and will help it manage the uncertainty of the future reforms of Local Government finances, which are increasingly stretched, it said.

Through its Council Tax Reduction scheme (see Cost of Living Help page 16, the authority will ensure that those who are in financial hardship are able to pay less council tax, while receiving the full range of support services. At the moment, the council is supporting 3,200 households and has awarded £3.7m to reduce residents’ bills through the scheme. To help prevent further worry, financial advice is also offered.

West Devon Borough Council declared a housing crisis in February 2022 and backed its declaration with a detailed action plan. At the meeting, the council agreed proposals for second homeowners to pay a fair share of council tax, which was one of the actions within the plan.

The proposals agreed would see second homeowners paying double the council tax amount for an area as soon as legislation allows. This legislation, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, is likely to become law from 1 April 2024 at the earliest. There are an estimated 650 second homes within the borough of West Devon.

Cllr Neil Jory, Leader of West Devon Borough Council, said: ‘We regret the need to have to increase council tax, particularly during a cost of living crisis, but it is only right that we do raise it by a small amount to ensure that we can continue to provide and improve our core services to everyone across West Devon, especially those who are most vulnerable. Since 2016, council tax has reduced in real terms by over 7% when compared to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for inflation over the same time.

‘The council has been working extremely hard to help our residents through the cost of living crisis and the support that we provide will continue to be crucial in the months ahead for many people.

‘We run crucial services including housing and benefits services. Along with these, our Council Tax Reduction scheme ensures that those in financial hardship will pay less council tax, but get the full range of support services.

‘These are only some of the many services that the borough council offers, for just over one tenth of the annual council tax bill. The council offers real value for money, with only 11p of every £1 paid (11%) in council tax being received by West Devon Borough Council.

‘The council has also taken the decision to charge second homeowners double the amount of council tax for an area. The housing challenges that we are facing in West Devon are so serious that the council declared a housing crisis in February 2022.

‘Our residents are struggling to access accommodation at the right price and tenure to allow them to continue living in their communities. This has become more significant following the pandemic, which has seen an increase in demand for short term holiday lets and second homes. This would see second homeowners making a fair and equitable contribution to our communities.’

The borough council is also responsible for the collection of council tax on behalf of a number of other authorities, including Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue, Devon and Cornwall Police, the county council and town and parish councils. The borough said: ‘It is often assumed that all the money collected goes to the borough council, but that is not the case, as although the district council collects the council tax, the majority of the money is paid over to these other authorities, to fund their services.’ To find out more about the report presented at the full council meeting, go to: More on p7

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