The cash has been committed by South Ribble Borough Council after the authority received a £600,000 windfall in business rates income.
The unexpected increase in funding has also enabled the Labour-run council to reverse a planned two percent increase in council tax – and instead freeze bills both this year and next.
Both proposals were approved during a meeting to set the borough’s annual budget, which cabinet member for communities, social justice and wealth-building Aniela Bylinski-Gelder said put local neighbourhoods “at the heart of our decision-making”.
South Ribble’s five community hubs will be entitled to access the new support fund – which will increase ten-fold the cash that would otherwise have been available to them for local projects in the year ahead.
Cllr Bylinski-Gelder said: “The community of South Ribble have suffered through Covid, so this will be a boost to our communities’ needs. The…hubs in each area now have autonomy to reach down into the roots of their communities and support new growth and development.
“This is a great opportunity [for councillors] to go out into your communities to…ask them what they would like to see supported, developed and started over the next 12 months – because we have the money and can act upon their wishes.”
The budget outlined a raft of other spending proposals, including a separate £250,000 fund to help community and sports clubs after the pandemic and £1.6m of capital investment in the borough’s leisure centres. Meanwhile, major play areas and open spaces will see £1.5m poured into their refurbishment, along with £200 for smaller facilities.
Cabinet member for finance, property and assets Matthew Tomlinson heralded what he said the administration had achieved since Labour took control in 2019 and what was still to come – including what he claimed will be an “unprecedented” three-year council tax freeze after bills were also kept on hold last year.
“In our entire four-year period in office we will have increased our share of the council tax for a Band D property by just £4.36 a year. In an era of rising taxes and economic uncertainty, a significant proportion of our residents will actually be paying this council less in cash terms than they were when we took control – and everyone will be paying less in real terms,” Cllr Tomlinson said.
Conservative opposition group leader Karen Walton said her party was supportive of many of the measures in the budget – including the council tax freeze to help residents during “difficult financial times”.
However, she said that it was important to recognise where the money to fund many of the budget’s proposals had come from – and warned of rising future debt.
“We must congratulate the government for providing the extra funding [during the pandemic] The…government funding received by this council since March 2020 totals over £47m.
“What gives us the greatest concern is the growing level of debt which this Labour administration is planning to lead the borough into over the next two years. The previous Conservative administration left this authority in a very financially-robust situation and totally debt-free to enable the financing of many of these worthwhile projects,” Cllr Walton said.
She added that planned capital spending of £71.6m over the next three years would “leave our residents with an eye-watering borrowing debt [£41m in prudential borrowing by 2024/25], which will take generations of council taxpayers to pay off, placing a heavy burden on our children and grandchildren”.
Her Tory colleague, Cllr Michael Green, also said that it was government funding which “enables us to do as a council a lot of the good things that we are able to do”.
However, council leader Paul Foster said that any future debt that would be placed on the authority “is not serviced by the revenue budget or the council tax, it’s serviced by the buildings and the facilities that it’s paid for”.
He added that councillors were being asked to approve one of the most “progressive, community-first budgets that this council has ever delivered”.
Liberal Democrat councillor Angela Turner said her party had been pleased to support the budget as part of its confidence and supply arrangement with the minority Labour administration.
“I fail to see any issues about putting this council tax into financial dire straits [and] I’m really looking forward to the way we are going to manage the services in this community,” Cllr Turner added.
One half of the £600,000 windfall for South Ribble came from an increase to the business rates base in the borough and the other relates to compensation for a “lost increase” as a result of restrictions on the uplift in business rate charges in 2022/23.
Cllr Tomlinson said that the former amount was a sign of the strength of the business community in South Ribble, which had been supported by the authority’s distribution of government grants during the pandemic.
“It’s going to continue to grow because we are taking steps to embed and encourage that business growth,” he said, noting that the council did not currently have any empty units to rent out.
The authority is forecasting a budget deficit of £732,000 by 2024/25, which it aims to address by becoming “more financially self-sufficient”.
Savings will also have to be found by making the authority more efficient – via investment in infrastructure and IT – but while trying to “minimise the impact” on frontline services, according to its medium-term financial strategy. There will also be more joint contract procurement with neighbouring Chorley Council.
SOUTH RIBBLE’S COUNCIL TAX BILLS FOR THE YEAR AHEAD
This is the South Ribble Borough Council share of council tax bills for 2022/23. It excludes the amounts levied by Lancashire County Council (the majority of the bill), the police and fire services and parish and town councils.
BAND A – £148.83
BAND B – £173.63
BAND C – £198.44
BAND D – £223.24
BAND E – £272.85
BAND F – £322.46
BAND G – £372.07
BAND H – £446.48
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