A balanced budget was presented to the Full Council meeting, on Tuesday 16 February. Councillors voted for a financial plan that continues to fund frontline services during a difficult time for public sector spending, with more financial uncertainty likely in the coming years.
To help secure frontline services, councillors have agreed to a small increase in the Council's share of the Council Tax of £5 per year, meaning a Band D property would pay £241.63 to the Borough Council for all of its services.
West Devon Borough Council is responsible for the collection of Council Tax on behalf of a number of statutory services including the Fire, the Police, Devon County Council and Town and Parish Councils. The Council Tax is split between these organisations, with the Borough Council's charge of £241.63 being only 11% of the total amount of the overall bill.
The Council now has to be entirely independent to fund all of its services on a budget of just £7.3m, as they no longer receive any main Government Grant (Revenue Support Grant) and have had a reduction in core Government funding of £3m per year since 2010.
Ongoing partnership working with South Hams District Council continues to save £2.2million a year. However, given the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, so to ensure frontline services continue in the future, councillors have agreed to move £281,404, into an earmarked reserve, to protect against future COVID losses in the next financial year, 2021-22.
Councillors have expressed a wish to provide additional support across the Borough for organisations working with young people who have been affected by the restrictions that have been in place over the last year. They have asked that research be carried out by officers working with the Community Safety Partnership, to identify the scope and nature of difficulties that are being experienced. The intention is to provide additional funding, with a decision expected by April.
As part of the Revenue Budget Proposals, a hold on increased charges was made in a number of services areas, including Environmental Health, Planning Applications and Enforcement.
Cllr Neil Jory, Leader of West Devon Borough Council, said: "I appreciate it is a very difficult time for everyone and Local Government is no different, with finances and services being increasingly stretched. We want to do whatever we can to help to support our community and maintaining our key services is part of that.
"Despite pressure on our resources, the Council has today agreed a balanced budget, which will enable us to support the communities of West Devon as we all recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and plan for the future. That we have been able to do so is, in no small way, due to the financial support that the Government has given all councils, and the support and leadership of Devon County Council in working together with all the districts in the County, the NHS, emergency services and voluntary groups.
"Our part of the Council Tax is very small; approximately one tenth of the total amount a household will pay. For just £4.65 per week we provide a wide range of services from recycling to housing to food hygiene, along with planning, fly tipping clearance and play parks. During the Covid-19 pandemic the council has been fully involved in the local effort engaging with community groups, providing advice and guidance. We've directed funding to enable social distancing measures in town centres, and coordinating the distribution of 13 different business grants to local businesses.
"It hasn't been easy to keep our finances stable and to keep services uninterrupted over the past year and I am immensely proud of the entire Council workforce and councillors for the huge commitment they put in every day. They often go beyond the call of duty to provide services for the Borough.
I'm pleased to say that West Devon has shown the benefit of sensible financial management and competence. This has enabled the Council to be adaptable, responsive and to now be ready to plan for the future. This will enable us to continue to work for our residents and businesses."