Sedgemoor District Council’s element of the council tax in Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge will be increased by 3.08% this year, putting an additional £5 per year on a Band D property.

The council decided on Thursday (February 20th) to set a ‘balanced budget’ with no cuts to public services and an investment in priority services despite continued reductions in grant funding from central Government.

Items in Sedgemoor’s new budget include:

  • Income to the council of £457,000 as a result of Sedgemoor’s commercial investments.
  • There has been an increase in business rates, in the current year of £3.7 million with a further £1.7 million estimated for next year.  The council says this money will be used to fund priority services across Sedgemoor and keep council taxes low.
  • SDC has picked up the cost of over £160,000 a year to keep services going such as Citizens Advice as well as supported housing for many vulnerable elderly residents.
  • An additional £75,000 towards Sedgemoor’s work to reduce carbon emissions to become carbon-neutral by 2030.
  • 107 new affordable houses across two sites – one in Bridgwater and one in Highbridge.
  • Investment of £7.5m into council homes, in partnership with Homes in Sedgemoor.
  • An additional £200,000 to Sedgemoor’s Homelessness Team for them to continue their work in preventing homelessness. Last year, the team prevented 358 people from becoming homeless.
  • £100,000 into a successful Apprentice scheme, investing in Sedgemoor’s youth.
  • An additional £100,000 into training, staff and organisational development.
  • An additional £11,000 to enable RNLI lifeguards at Burnham-On-Sea and Berrow to patrol for an extended period.

The budget was approved by Sedgrmoor’s Full Council on Thursday, with members voting to approve the Council Tax and Housing Rents for 2020/2021 with an increase in council tax of £5 per year on a Band D.

The increase in Council Tax will see an average Band D property pay £167.32 this year for District Council services.

This includes £1.80 that is raised on behalf of the Somerset Rivers Authority each year. It goes directly to the Somerset Rivers Authority and enables it to implement and fund the 20-year flood action plan for the county.

An additional £39.08 goes to the Internal Drainage Boards to help with their work.  This leaves the actual amount that SDC retain for spending on its services at £128.24 per Band D property.

Sedgemoor District Council Leader’s Budget Speech

Councillor Duncan McGinty told Thursday’s meeting: “Yet again this year, it is a great pleasure to be able to present the budget to Council today. Unlike many other councils, Sedgemoor has had another very successful year, which allows me to present a positive budget for the coming year.

That’s not to say that we don’t have challenges; of course we do, but we are well equipped financially, and operationally, to address those challenges.

So, I am able to stand here today to present a balanced budget, with no service cuts. We will continue to invest in priority services and our customer access programme, which will both improve on the already high performing services and drive out efficiencies for further investment in new services.

The last two years have seen our first major investments in commercial property. These investments have delivered new income streams and provided a positive resource to replace dwindling government funding. The budget before you today benefits from an additional £457,000 as a result of our investments.

Our economy has consistently grown over the past seven years since the introduction of business rates retention and this is predicted to continue.  This is also borne out by increased business rates, in the current year, £3.7 million with a further £1.7 million estimated for next year.  These also serve to fund priority services across Sedgemoor. Added to this we have the prospect of the new Towns Fund to plan for…….so exciting times ahead.

Our housing and growth agendas continue to thrive and we remain committed to the community work on the ground with our very successful Together Teams.

The majority of ways in which we deliver services to our customers is for us to decide.  However, as I said last year we will work with neighbours and partners to make sure we deliver services to our customers in the way they want them, when they want them and, importantly, as cost effectively as possible. To that end, we have committed to work with the other authorities in Somerset to redesign local service provision, push up performance and drive out savings where appropriate and proportionate. You will all be well aware of the County Council’s aspirations to establish a unitary council for Somerset. Well I don’t subscribe to that outcome and don’t believe it would deliver the best outcomes for local people.

Despite that, since May 2018 when the leader of the county council announced his wish to explore a unitary outcome for Somerset, we have been dealing with the challenges arising from some of the financial cuts made by the county council that have an impact on our residents.  These have included support for our local Cititzens Advice, and ensuring funds remained in place for supported housing for some of our most vulnerable elderly residents. And we will continue to do that into next year. A total ongoing investment of over £160,000.

Looking back for a few moments, 2019 has seen great achievements in our district.

  • With extra investment in our planning service we have, again, achieved top performance
  • Our benefits service has maintained its ranking of 3rd nationally and best in the south west region
  • We continue to prevent homelessness, preventing 358 cases last year

On the economic and regeneration front we have seen:

  • The ground breaking ceremony for the link road for Gravity
  • Completion and opening of Squibbers Way
  • Opening of the Holiday Inn Express and Premier Inn and Travel Lodge at Highbridge
  • Continued investment and development of the Bridgwater Retail Park
  • Completion of the first Units at the Bridgwater Gateway Development
  • Completion of construction work for Somerset Energy Innovation Centre phase 2
  • Opening of Somerset Larder new manufacturing facility
  • Wages in Sedgemoor continue to rise and have increased by 16% since 2015.
  • The total number of businesses operating within Sedgemoor continues to rise and has increased by 195 since 2015
  • Job seeker claims continue to fall and as of 2019 sits at 78 people claiming job seekers allowance.

And as we move into the next financial year, we will do everything we can to maintain and improve upon that success.

In addition, we have also taken steps to address climate change having declared a climate emergency twelve months ago. We have a dedicated climate change staff resource in Housing, Health and Wellbeing supported by other staff who have climate change actions.

Whilst SDC is part of the wider Somerset councils action groups, we –  as an organisation and one of the largest employers in the district –  are doing work to see how we can reduce our carbon emissions. There have been internal groups set up to concentrate on five areas where we think we can practically make a difference. These cover Green Travel,  The Plant Room, Recycling & Waste, Tree Planting and our Policies and Procedures.

In the coming year, we will expand on this work and to that end,  I am proposing a further £75,000 in the budget for next year.

On the front line, we will continue to invest in housing. We all know there is a national housing crisis and in Sedgemoor we are committed to providing safe, warm and affordable housing for our residents. We look forward to working with our local Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and Homes in Sedgemoor to achieve this.

We currently have 107 new homes in progress in our housing development plan with the Withycutter site at Sydenham in Bridgwater and Alpha House in Highbridge, due to complete any day now.   And of course, we have recently seen the opening of the Highbridge Hotel YMCA housing scheme in which this council played an essential part, not least of which financially.

But it is not just about building new homes – we also need to invest in our existing housing stock and we will work with Homes in Sedgemoor to ensure this happens. Next year sees a further £7.5 million available to ensure this happens.

We will continue to maintain and increase our work to address homelessness and I am very proud of the ongoing success of our housing team in this regard. Our investment in this service has grown over recent years and again next year we will be investing over £200,000 to ensure we meet our commitments.

This council is committed to improving the lives of our residents, reducing poverty, improving educational achievement and supporting employment. We believe the best way to do this is to support housing growth and inward investment, to support aspiration and to work with partners to build strong and resilient communities. The services this council, this district council, provides are essential to achieving this.

But success relies on a strong, committed and resilient workforce. To make sure we demonstrate our ongoing commitment to our own staff development and aspiration and, indeed, supporting local people into jobs we will maintain our hugely successful apprenticeship scheme with a further investment of £100,000 next year. This sits alongside our graduate scheme launched last year. We now have three graduates working with us, with two of these who are just about to take part in Young Local Authority of the year 2020.

With the extra £20,000 put into the budget last year, we have seen increased investment in training with mental health first aid and awareness, strategic management and team building, Firmstep (our new IT system) and customer service. Moving forward with the roll out of the customer access programme we will be working to achieve customer service excellence accreditation by working with the Institute of Customer Services.

We have also invested in 20 of our own employees with “Train the Trainer” training, which provides them with the skills and opportunity to deliver training to other staff across the council. This shows our absolute commitment to developing and supporting our staff into the future.

I guess this is, in part, why we achieved Investors in People Gold Accreditation in 2019. Something we should all be really proud of.

Having experienced the benefits of investing more widely in our staff and organisational development, I am proposing a further £100,000 on an ongoing basis to boost our support for staff development, organisational redesign and transformation, all of which will ultimately deliver improved service delivery to our residents.

Following the success of the extended beach patrols last year, I propose to increase the contribution by an additional £11,000 towards the RNLI life-guards, to cover an extended period which will keep our beach goers safe and aware of safety issues.

Balancing this district council’s budget is NOT about cutting essential and well-loved services; it is about finding new ways to drive out savings and bring in new income streams …… and that is exactly what we have done and will continue to do.

We will take every opportunity to bring in additional funding from partnership bids and national funding streams.

It is our success in securing inward investment and new funding that complements our history of sound financial management, and it is this success that provides the financial stability to invest in new and exciting projects.

There are many councils who would love to be in the position in which we find ourselves today.

And so to the Council tax, our proposal is simple. We propose an annual increase of £5 on a band D property in the district, just over 3%, which is just under 10p per week.   This, I believe, delivers our commitment to maintain our council tax at an affordable level while providing a base from which to continue to invest in new and exciting services in the future.”

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