Council tax freeze in sight

A draft budget which proposes a freeze on council tax and savings of £18.6million was approved at a meeting of North Somerset Council’s Executive yesterday (Tuesday February 1).

The draft budget will now go to Full Council on February 22 for final approval.

If approved, the average Band D property in North Somerset will pay £1,150.87 for council services, the same as last year. This is the second lowest council tax in the south west, and tax payers in North Somerset pay £65.22 less than the national unitary authority average for a Band D property.

The Executive report sets out the proposed budget for 2011/12 as well as budget intentions up until 2015. It highlights that over the next four years the council will have to save £47.3million.

The outcome of the government settlement means that the council has had to identify a minimum of £17.5million of savings for 2011/12.

The scale of the financial challenge is unprecedented and even greater than when initial draft budget projections were published in December. Central government funding was £4.7million less than the council expected.

The proposals for 2011/12 include savings across all the council’s service areas.

Cllr Nigel Ashton, Leader of the Council, said: “We are facing unprecedented levels of cuts and must play our part, along with every other council, as the country reduces the enormous national debt.

“We have been working hard to prepare for significant savings and are better prepared than many other authorities to face the challenge. This has been achieved through good forward planning and undertaking organisational change, such as outsourcing many of our back-office services, new ways of delivering cultural services and bringing together our office accommodation in two main buildings.

“We cannot expect to achieve this scale of savings without feeling the difference, but we will continue to develop different ways of delivering services wherever possible. We will also continue to fight our corner with central government for fairer funding.

“The council’s policy is to avoid compulsory redundancy whenever possible but, given the scale of the budget reductions we are having to make, some job losses are inevitable,” continued Cllr Ashton.

“We estimate a reduction of around 140 full time equivalent posts during 2011/12. However, due to the proactive actions we have taken including outsourcing some services, the number of staff actually being put at risk of redundancy is likely to be less than 50.

“It is inevitable that the scale of the financial challenge will impact on residents, communities, partner organisations and our own staff. However, the proposed budget is prudent and protects services to our communities as far as it is possible within the limits of the resources made available to us.”