Warwickshire County Council Budget includes council tax rise and money to look in to ‘fair living wage’ for employees

The council's Local Offer was said to be deficient
The council's Local Offer was said to be deficient

Warwickshire residents will have to pay about £1.60 more a month to cover the county council’s slice of council tax this year.

But the authority will invest £1 million in apprenticeships, £2.5 million to improve child safety in relation to traffic, road and cycling around schools, and £1.5 million to “ensure that every child in the county has the very best start in life”.

After Warwickshire County Council’s ‘marathon’ budget meeting of more than 12 hours last week, the authority agreed on a 1.95 per cent tax rise on its proportion of council tax bills for the coming financial year from April, which equates to about 44p per week for a typical household.

The key priorities identified by the council £4m for rural broadband – giving 98% of Warwickshire’s home access to broadband connections a £4m upgrade to streetlighting to LED - bringing long term efficiencies and reducing the county’s carbon footprint- and an extensive programme of work with the voluntary and community sector.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, leader of the Conservative-led council, said: “In setting this year’s budget we have had to recognise our continued programme of efficiencies while also identifying key areas of work that we wish to prioritise for the people of Warwickshire.”

Cllr Jonathon Chilvers of the Warwick and Leamington Green Party hailed parts of the budget, in particular the money being put aside to ensure council employees receive a ‘fair living wage’.

Cllr Chilvers said: “All parties agreed to put money in to figure out how to make this work in Warwickshire for more than 2,000 of our employees paid less than £7.85 per hour. People working as cleaners, midday supervisors and catering staff need to be paid fairly for the work they do.”

“Last year the Greens proposed massive investment in LED street lights which are good for the environment and save money and I’m delighted that this year the other parties all caught up.

“Some of the money saved should be given to local communities to prioritise which street lights they want back on.”

Leamington councillor Matt Western, of the Warwickshire Labour group, said his party was at the heart of the long negotiations during the course of the day and supported many of the proposals within the approved budget.

He said: “These included ideas put forward by Labour, such as the funding for bursaries to enable children in the care of the council to access University places. That funding will be on-going to the tune of £100,000 per year. A further proposal, which found widespread support, was for the accelerated introduction of LED street lighting. Since the street lights were switched off, it has been Labour that has campaigned consistently for the introduction of LED street lights, this having demonstrated that the investment would pay back very quickly,”

Labour proposals to put money aside for the enhancement of town centres were turned down as were proposals to ring fence capital money for rail, cycle and extra staff to pull in more money for cycling investment.

Cllr Chilvers said: “Overall there’s still three years of eye watering cuts coming through because of horrific central government cuts. People will continue to see massive changes - cuts in services, around libraries, social care, voluntary grants and more.”

*Warwick District Council will freeze its part of people’s council tax bill for the fifth year running with the authority announcing a surplus of £220,000 from the 2014-15 financial year.

This part of the tax, which pays for services such as recycling, bin collections, parks, leisure centres and housing, will amount to £146.86 per year, or £2.82 for the average band D household.

In holding the tax, the council has been able to take advantage of the Council Tax Freeze Grant on offer to all local authorities from the Government.

While the district’s element of the council tax would be frozen, residents will still see an increase in their total bill (see above) as Warwickshire County Council, Warwickshire Police and many parish and town councils have increased their tax.

In proposing the district council’s budget, further savings have had to be accommodated, with many budgets having been reduced.

In doing this the authority has said it has been possible to protect mainstream services.

The Council has plans to make further savings in future years.

However, it still needs to find additional saving of £1m out of a net budget of £15 million over the next for years, as financial support from the Government is projected to decrease further.

Consideration is being given how to make savings and generate further income, without cutting services.

Cllr Stephen Cross (Con, Warwick North), who is responsible for policy on finance, said: “I pay tribute to both officers and councillors in continuing to maintain and improve our service offering without increasing council tax.

“We are predicting a further fall in the government grants that we receive and it is our priority to continue to work tirelessly to offer our residents value for money”.