No increase is planned in Epping Forest District Council’s Council Tax. The zero increase was recommended at the Council’s latest Cabinet meeting on 11 February. The budget for 2021/22 will now go to Full Council for approval on 25 February.
The projected annual cost of an average Band D property is expected to remain the same at £152.46. Epping Forest District Council has not increased its share of the Council Tax since 2010 – except for a one-off increase to fund three extra Essex Police officers in 2018.
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Protection of services for residents
Council Leader, Councillor Chris Whitbread said:
The Council Tax freeze comes against a background of financial challenges and restrictions brought about by COVID-19. However, prudent financial management, including reserves accumulated over many years, not only means Council Tax can be frozen but also means the protection and retention of all our frontline services for our residents.
We are proud to maintain one of the lowest, if not the lowest Council Tax levels in Essex while continuing to provide the excellent frontline services that our residents value.
Economic recovery following COVID-19
The Budget was presented by Finance and Economic Development Portfolio Holder John Philip who emphasised the importance of economic recovery following the COVID-19 Pandemic.
We have tried to do more than just leave money in people’s pockets with a zero Council Tax increase. This comes after a huge emergency grant initiative during the pandemic to support local businesses. As we move from emergency to recovery, we are now budgeting for major investment in our local economy and town centres, protecting jobs and improving wellbeing.
The Council’s income has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pay-and-Display parking and leisure centre income has been badly affected as well as lower collection rates for Council Tax and National Non-Domestic Rates compared to normal years. However, the Council is pledging to maintain the low 20p parking charge in all its council-run car parks until at least June as part of its ongoing support for local high streets.
Councillor Philip continued:
This is alongside a programme of Town Centre studies designed to support high streets to get back on their feet. Investment in Highway Rangers is also paying dividends, carrying out repairs and improvements around the district.
Previous investments support council budget
Investment in previous years is continuing to support the council budget, including:
- North Weald Airfield – including income from various airfield-based businesses, aviation, Saturday market and the new HMRC International Border Facility
- Rent from commercial property ranging from high street shops to industrial estates and the Epping Forest Retail Park
- Qualis, the Council’s wholly owned companies which will start to show a return on investment following last year’s set up costs
Epping Forest District Council has also received a number of Government Covid-related grants to help bridge the gap from lower income.
Securing frontline services
Councillor Chris Whitbread said:
Customers tell us that recycling collections, leisure centres and car parking are important to them, and the Council’s primary aim is to secure those frontline services. I am excited to see that despite the financial challenges of COVID-19, we still have money secured for a brand-new Epping Leisure Centre including the swimming pool and sports hall residents said they wanted. We reduced the charge in our car parks to support our town centres, our waste contractor Biffa hardly missed a single collection due to COVID-19 last year, and we are one of the few local authorities forging ahead with building new council housing for local people.
Councillor Chris Whitbread added:
Epping Forest District is continuing to work with Essex Police through our Community Safety partnership including dedicated funding for additional police officers in the district.
Reducing our carbon footprint
Council policies are increasingly shaped by environmental concerns and Chris Whitbread said:
All this is taking place against a background of climate change and our pledge to become carbon neutral. Everyone has a part to play but the Council cannot encourage others unless we walk the walk ourselves. Our newly refurbished Epping Offices are due to reopen on a much smaller footprint this Spring. We’ve changed our ways of working, giving many of our staff the technology to work from home, cutting the need for office space and car journeys, saving money and cutting pollution. Energy efficiencies in the building will also help reduce our carbon footprint further.
Investment in council housing stock
Another highlight in next year’s budget is investment in the Council’s housing stock, investing in current stock and building new council housing for the future.
- £11.9m – new windows, doors, roofing, kitchens, bathrooms to council homes
- 417 new properties on over 18 sites – exact size and type to be determined based on demand and in consultation with councillors and residents
The Council has also budgeted £971,510 for Disabled Facility Grants to enable people to continue to live in their homes.
Thank you to staff
Councillor Chris Whitbread added:
I would like to thank Councillor John Philip (Finance Portfolio Holder) for bringing forward such a strong budget in such challenging times. I also want to thank all the Council staff who have kept services running during the pandemic, continuing to find improvements and efficiencies to our services while managing essential business during the lockdown.
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