Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge residents will see no cuts to services provided by Sedgemoor District Council, the authority’s leader has vowed this week as councillors approved a 3.3% increase in council tax.

Sedgemoor’s portion of the council tax for the coming year will rise by £5 per year for a typical band D property, or 3.32%, following a decision at a meeting on Tuesday (February 20th).

Leader of the Council, Cllr Duncan McGinty, pictured, says that by putting up the council tax, Sedgemoor District Council has set a balanced budget for the coming year despite a reduction in its funding from Central Government.

The increase comes on top of a separate decision earlier this month by the Town Council to increase Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge council tax bills by 4.95%.

At this week’s meeting of Sedgemoor District Council’s Full Council, members voted to approve the Council Tax and Housing Rents for 2018/2019 following their long-term plan by the managed use of balances.

“This means that there are no cuts to services for residents. Over the past year, members have taken prudent, forward-thinking decisions that maintain and improve services and save money,” said the Leader of the Council, Cllr Duncan McGinty.

Sedgemoor’s element of the council tax will be increased by 3.32% – an additional £5 per year on a Band D property. The council also agreed to a 1.25% charge for the Somerset Rivers Authority, which equates to a £1.80 per Band D property.

In his speech to councillors, he said: “Like so many other councils, we face ongoing challenges. However, unlike so many other authorities, we have prepared well over recent years to ensure we are not facing the crises that many are now facing.”

“Of course, we still need to be prudent and ensure we plan for the future, but I am proud to be able to stand here without the need to cut services to our communities.”

“This is in no small part due to this Council’s ongoing careful financial management but also as a direct result of the success we have achieved in a range of areas across the District, not least of which being our ongoing economic growth and new homes. Both bring financial as well as regeneration and social rewards.”

He added: “Since 2008 we had seen 6,000 jobs, 4,540 homes and 1.74m sq ft of employment space created. We had attracted seven hotels, gained an Enterprise Zone and recorded 0.4% unemployment. We had welcomed 470 businesses, signed 30 Local Labour Agreements and seen £100m worth of education and skills provision. We had registered 690 businesses on the Hinkley Point C supply chain portal and £400m of investment in the District.”

“Furthermore, the economic objectives from the Hinkley Point C project set out in our vision documents will result in more than 1000 new apprenticeships and in excess of £200m per annum added to the regional economy. Our new enterprise zone will generate more than £150m in business rates income to the Local Enterprise Partnership, Sedgemoor District and Somerset County Council. We have welcomed 700 people through our employment centre ‘Under Construction’ since April 2017.”

“The current government has clearly recognised the importance and value of local development and housing. We are taking every opportunity the get the best for this district from new government funding initiatives.”

“The most recent figures we have for housing are relating to 2016-17, in which 512 homes were built of which 168 were affordable. There are just over 200 affordable homes on sites, currently under construction.”

“During 2018-19, we expect to see the build out of a £15.3m portfolio of six sites, assisted with funds including £1.2m from the Hinkley Housing Fund – delivering 110 affordable homes in Bridgwater.”

“With our Local Plan coming to fruition we are set to deliver 644 new houses a year. With an informed and careful approach, a planned use of balances and an ongoing review of the way we conduct our business we have balanced the budget with minimum impact.”

“But, we want to do more. Housing remains a primary focus for this Council – minimising homelessness, providing new affordable housing, and working with partner developers to bring forward market housing which will attract new inward investment and higher value jobs.”

“As such, we propose investing an additional £100,000 to strengthen our housing advice team, funded by government grant, and an additional £60,000 to provide staff resources to support this council’s new build housing programme.”

“We remain absolutely committed to building new homes owned and managed by the council and investing in our own stock. This will not only improve standards but also exploit development opportunities to build increased numbers of council houses, which meet the requirements of modern living and provide healthy, thermally-efficient homes for our residents.”

“Much has been reported in the local government press about Councils investment in commercial properties to provide investment income for the future. This was identified as an area for further work in our Peer Challenge and I am pleased to report significant progress in this regard both with proposed investment of up to £150,000 for staff and expertise to support this work and the provision of up to £50 million to invest in the commercial markets.”

“Added to this, we have also extended our treasury management portfolio which has already seen increased income streams in excess and for future years is estimated to increase by an additional £300,000 So we are not resting on our laurels!”

“In our most deprived communities, we will continue to work with partners, police, fire, social services and others as part of the Together Teams. Two years into the first Together Team project, this work has been embedded and is no longer an add-on to other support we provide. For this to continue, we are proposing additional funding of £30,000 per year.”

“We are investing an additional £50,000 into continuing our campaign for increased community benefit in relation to the construction phase of Hinkley Point C; Members will remember that due to our constant dialogue with Ministers and government departments we got £128 million back in 2013 for the operational phase.”

“Alongside our partners, we are also looking at our ‘green’ credentials. We already strive to do more. We currently encourage people to cycle, car share, we have a hybrid car and one electric pool cars, LED lighting in Bridgwater House and have reduced the use of single use plastics over recent years with only one water tower.”

“Being a coastal community, we are well aware of the impacts of plastics and will do all we can to encourage the use of other traditional and more suitable alternative to single-use plastics.”

“We have also just installed air quality measuring equipment in Bridgwater and the results of this will be seen on the Defra website.”

“Despite our very clear success in recent years, as acknowledged by the Peer Challenge Team, we will continue to seek to improve access to services and reduce costs. The focus of this will be by way of the Customer Access Programme due to start this year. This will require significant investment but offers the opportunity to change radically the way in which we do business. The business case for this will be reported later this year at which time we will make the final investment decision.”

“We want to be sure that we are a strong council for the future we want to invest in our staff, ensure we have the right skills and provide for meaningful career paths. We have seen the success of our apprentice programme with twenty-one apprentices taking part to date. We now want to build on that with an “apprentice-plus” scheme enabling retention of new talent and enthusiasm. In support of this, and future apprentices, we are proposing to increase the budget to £250,000 this year. This will provide funding to ‘grow our own’, succession plan and set an example to other employers across the district. This funding will be supported by the annual apprenticeship levy of £47,400.”

“We will be seeking IIP re-accreditation later this year, reflecting our belief in and support of our staff. While we continue to seek efficiencies and alternative income streams, we have avoided service cuts and are able to invest further in those services that are valued by our residents. We should not forget that this has been achieved while many of our neighbours are facing swingeing cuts and further job losses.”

“Let us not forget that, at the same time, we are continuing to deliver against our obligations under the Section 106 for Hinkley C. The majority may be funded by 106 monies, but it can only be achieved by the ongoing commitment and support of the teams across the Council, be that Employment, Housing, Health, Leisure or Community projects.”

“So now to the Council Tax. For many years, we have kept our portion of the council tax as low as possible, whilst continuing to maintain and improve services. We are proud of that record. However, we have to balance this against the need to raise additional income to protect and improve services.”

“Therefore, we propose to increase council tax for Sedgemoor in the coming year by £5.00 per year for a band D property, or 3.32%.”

“So this budget is not just about next year or indeed about this council… it is about the future for our residents with continued, and I hope, expanded services across the District.”