Tax freeze and £3m boost to housing in budget shock

South Ribble Council Civic Centre, Leyland

South Ribble Council Civic Centre, Leyland

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SOUTH Ribble Borough Council members have tonight unanimously agreed to freeze its portion of the council tax.

The move – in contrast to the majority of all other borough councils nationally – means a Band D household will pay £208.38 for the next year.

South Ribble councillor Warren Bennett

South Ribble councillor Warren Bennett

Coun Warren Bennett also announced investments of £4.18m as part of budget, including £3m into housing provision, the extension of an apprenticeship scheme, investment into parks and town centres, marketing the borough to businesses, and addressing homelessness.

Despite a near £3m deficit due to cuts from Central Government, Coun Bennett said he was able to make the investments because of prudent financial planning, by using money held in savings from previous ‘right to buy’ purchases and from Section 106 receipts, and from using money that is part of the City Deal.

The council is also looking to “reallocate its resources”, meaning the future of its property portfolio is being assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Coun Bennett said: “I will not consider raising tax because I can; I will however be willing to raise it when I need to.

“Taxing residents should be treated as a last resort, not the first and easy option.”

He also announced – to cheers from the Labour opposition – a u-turn over plans to introduce charges for parking at Worden and Withy Grove Parks.

The decision, which could still go before council at a later date, he said was down to a lack of information from Lancashire County Council over parking enforcement.

He said: “We’ve always been clear that any potential introduction to car parking charges would be aligned with enforcement. Until we have answers on this we are not in a position to consult our residents and businesses on the various options.”

The budget was largely welcomed by the Labour party, who claimed it borrowed heavily from their alternative budget last year.

Leader Coun Paul Foster did though question the decision not to take the Government’s recommended precept increase of 1.7 per cent, which would have brought in an additional £528,000, and also warned Coun Bennett about “overstating” the council’s financial position going forward.

Party colleague Coun Matthew Tomlinson agreed, stating: “I’m worried that if we don’t build lots of new houses and attract lots of new businesses, this doesn’t stack up.”

Coun Bennett replied that all budgets are assumptions and the council would have to drive income generation, but the area was fortunate to benefit from City Deal funding.