North Herts District Council 2020/21 budget approved

North Herts District Council offices in Gernon Road, Letchworth. Picture: North Herts District Counc

North Herts District Council offices in Gernon Road, Letchworth. Picture: North Herts District Council - Credit: Archant

Residents across the North Herts district can expect higher council tax bills as the new financial budget for 2020/21 was passed last night.

The North Herts District Council budget for the forthcoming financial year was agreed at a full council meeting.

Additional funding has been set aside for increased numbers of staff, climate change proposal reviews, further town centre strategy works, continued investment in electric vehicles, support for the local Citizens Advice bureau and voluntary services.

The new areas of spending align with the council's long-term plan, which includes tackling climate change, community engagement and planning for the district's future.

As part of the budget, a 2.2 per cent rise in council tax has been agreed upon by the council. In real terms, the council say this equates to an extra £5 for the average Band D property in North Herts.

In opening remarks at last week's meeting, NHDC Leader Martin Stears-Handscomb said: "We would have liked to have funded more of our aspirations, but we are correct to assume that in the medium term, our funding will be cut again.

"We have made the decision to to specifically invest in areas that increase our engagement in our community and tackle climate change. We want to continue doing the most we can with the budget available."

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Councillor Stears-Handscomb added that the public will be consulted on the services the council deliver and committed that the current administration will make "the necessary difficult decisions" as future funding commitments from central government remains unclear.

This year, the budget took into account the fact that central government's negative revenue support grant will not be applied for the 2020/21 financial year - meaning NHDC's budget was boosted by an additional £1 million compared to initial forecasts.

The council's net expenditure budget for 2020/21 is set at £15.124 million. Spending reductions totalling £624,000 have also been identified as part of the budget.

Presenting the main speech was Councillor Ian Albert, NHDC's member for finance and IT.

As part of his speech, he relayed a lengthy list of developments under the joint administration to those present at the meeting.

He said: "Labour and Lib Dem have worked together successfully to bring new change across the whole of this council. We have an even more ambitious program scheduled for the coming civic year.

"The government have said that austerity is over, but that's not the reality that we see on the front line of local government. This council's funding continues to be restricted by central government."

Despite positive signs, with the budget being 1.1 per cent higher than last year and showing a surplus based on current forecasts, Councillor Albert insisted that "prudent decisions" still needed to be made to secure the medium term financial future of the government.

Because of potential reductions in the future funding received by councils across the country, NHDC has committed to a full budget review next year to ensure money is being spent effectively.

Councillor Sam North, who spoke in support the budget, said: "From bungled projects to waste collection failures, change needed to come to this council and this motion, this budget proves right and vindicates those residents who voted for me and my colleagues.

"There is still much more to do though and this budget that is being presented by myself and Cllr Albert highlights the many ways that we will improve the livelihoods of our residents whose council this is over the next year."

Councillor David Levett, leader of the Conservatives, arguing against said: "This budget does not look into the medium term. I would like to think we are here to protect the communities in which we live.

"I cannot and will not support a budget that does not look at the long term."

Summarising his argument, he finished with: "This is a good news budget, but there's bad news coming I think."

Councillor Tony Hunter, also against the proposed budget, added: "I must support my colleague. The fact is this budget is backed up by a lot of sales. The future will be an interesting one to see."