Finance, tourism and the need for housing were among issues discussed at Cabinet on 4 February at Epping Forest District Council civic offices.
District bucks trend with Council Tax freeze
Epping Forest District councillors are bucking national and local trends by recommending no increase in the District Council Tax for 2016/17. Finance Portfolio Holder Councillor Syd Stavrou made the recommendation to members of the District Council Cabinet meeting on 4 February. The zero increase will now go to Full Council for the final decision on 18 February. The Council also announced its aspiration to maintain the freeze for at least the next four year.
Tenants are also set to enjoy a rent reduction of one percent
The District Council Tax freeze comes against a background of cuts in central government funding and Council Tax increases elsewhere announced by Essex County Council, Essex Police, Essex Fire and Rescue and several local town and parish councils.
Councillor Stavrou said ‘Epping Forest District Council’s long track record of very prudent financial management should allow it to maintain services yet again without having to increase Council Tax. There will be relatively small amount of savings on the 2016/17 budget rather than cuts to services.’
She said: ‘We are not underplaying the difficult financial climate. We are a low-tax, pro-business, pro-environment council but we are walking a tightrope between protecting front line services and keeping Council Tax down. Central government grants are expected to continue falling until the Council is wholly reliant on its own income. So far we have been very successful but it has needed a lot of innovation.’
Councillor Stavrou continued: ‘We are very frugal. We have made some very significant savings but we also try to use our assets to the best advantage of our residents. For example, the re-letting of the domestic waste and recycling contract last year saved many hundreds of thousands of pounds. Solar panels on our office roof are the latest in a series of investments to cut fuel costs. The completion of the Epping Forest Shopping Park next year will create another major new source of income. If we continue to invest to accumulate in this way I am confident we can continue to keep the District Council Tax down and more money in the pockets of our residents where it belongs.’
Should the Cabinet recommendations be approved at Full Council, the annual Band D cost of Council Tax for Epping Forest District Council of £148.77 will not have increased since 2010.
Council Leader Councillor Chris Whitbread concluded the debate by echoing the sentiments of fellow cabinet members by thanking Councillor Stavrou and the team of supporting officers. He emphasised the importance of teamwork and careful planning that meant Epping Forest District Council could continue to invest and protect front line services.
Creating jobs and business opportunities within the local economy concentrated the minds of councillors as they agreed further funding for visitor and tourism development at Cabinet. Steps to provide landlord deposits and rental loans to help local people in housing need and the Council’s Treasury Management Strategy Statement and Investment Strategy for 2016/17 to 2018/19 were all also agreed.