Residents and local businesses are set to receive a boost as Cabinet recommends another freeze in Council Tax.
This makes £1.5 million rate relief available to hundreds of small businesses. The average yearly Band D Council Tax cost will remain at £152.46.
With the exception of a one-off increase to fund 3 extra officers with Essex Police last year, we have not increased its share of the Council Tax since 2010.
Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Finance, Councillor Gagan Mohindra said: “This is another great budget for the Council and the District. With the phasing out of the Government’s Revenue Support Grant, we are aiming to maintain and enhance local services at the same time as we become entirely self-financing. Very few councils are able to do both, but we are continuing to reap the rewards of excellent long-term financial planning and innovation.”
Presenting his budget to Cabinet on Thursday (7 February), Councillor Mohindra outlined some of the ways the Council is achieving the zero increase.
- Commercial Property – rental income through the Council’s commercial property portfolio valued at £114 million including North Weald Airfield, industrial estates, Epping Forest Shopping Park, and high street shop units. The National Police Air Service – NPAS at North Weald is the latest major tenant whose rental payments support local District Council services.
- Fees and Charges – income from pay and display car parks, licence fees and planning application charges are some of the ways the Council recoups the cost of services without increasing Council Tax.
- Major Contracts – high levels of recycling in partnership with waste contractor Biffa help to reduce the cost of landfill tax paid by the Council. The recent contract with Places Leisure is generating long term savings and the capacity to build new leisure facilities. The brand-new Waltham Abbey Leisure Centre was opened in November while the contract also supported strong investment in existing centres in Epping, Ongar and Loughton.
- Further Contract Opportunities – another brand-new leisure centre is planned in Epping as part of the St John’s Road redevelopment. This will also include other commercial as well as residential developments contributing towards the Council’s long-term investment income.
- The New Homes Bonus – although much reduced, the Government still provides some allowance for the extra cost of new homes developed within the District.
- Innovation and Investment – The Council is achieving savings while protecting services though a range of internal changes to the way it works. The redevelopment of part of the Civic Offices site with many staff moving to new offices or using new technology to work from home will contribute towards a more efficient Council. New partnership opportunities will provide further benefits to those already in place with organisations such as Essex Police, Essex County Council and local town and parish councils.
Councillor Mohindra said: “All these items and more come together as a package which is helping us not only to protect, but also enhance services while achieving a freeze in Council Tax for yet another year.”
Council Leader, Councillor Chris Whitbread said: “This budget builds on the strong foundations that we have put in place over the last 15 years. This is our ninth year out of ten in which we have managed to freeze council tax. Unfortunately other authorities haven’t been able to do that.” He continued: “This is a good news story for our district and the people of our district.”
Rent reduction and new homes for Council tenants
Receipts from the sale of council houses under the Right to Buy are contributing towards the £97 million Capital Programme including a major council house building plan across the district. Phase I delivered 23 new homes. Phase II is due to deliver 51 new homes by the end of the year while Phase III has already delivered 22 new homes plus 12 more to be built, 6 bought on the open market and 8 provided by a private developer as part of a Section 106 agreement. Six ‘pods’ have also been built specially for local homeless people and more house building phases are being developed to planning application stages. The Council is also set to reduce housing rents in line with Government guidelines. This will be the fourth year tenants have enjoyed an average of 1 percent annual rent reduction.
Who gets what
Councillor Mohindra reminded fellow Councillors that although the District Council is proposing to freeze its share of Council Tax for next year, charges made by Essex County Council, Essex Police and many of the District’s Town and Parish Councils are due to go up. He said: “It’s confusing for residents who hear we are freezing our Council Tax but then see the overall bill has gone up. That’s because Epping Forest District Council also collects the tax on behalf of other organisations over whom we have no control and to whom we must pass it on.”
£1.5 million Business Boost
Epping Forest District Council also collects the National Non-Domestic Rate, an independently set tax on local businesses. This is passed on through a pooling arrangement with only a small percentage given back to the District Council for local services. However, thanks to additional Central Government support, the Council is planning to push an extra £1.5 million back to local retail businesses through Discretionary Rate Relief.
Commenting on recommendations put forward by Cabinet Member for Customer Services, Councillor Helen Kane said: “We already have a well-established Discretionary Rate Relief scheme covering charities, voluntary and not for profit organisations such as St Clare Hospice, sports clubs and the scouts. However, the Government has announced money to allow Councils to provide discount of one-third on the business rates of local retail businesses with a rateable value of up to £51,000. By applying the discount, I estimate we can pump an extra £1.5 million back into the local economy, providing just the boost many of our small high street businesses need most.
Final decisions on Epping Forest District Council’s budget and the setting of the Council Tax will take place at the next meeting of the Full Council on Thursday 21 February.