Epping Forest District Council could raise its share of Council Tax by £4.85 a year for an (average) Band D household from £162.15 to £167.00 from April, an equivalent of just 9 pence per week.
Council Tax makes an important but relatively small contribution to Epping Forest District Council’s services. Central government funding has also declined to historically low levels. Most of the Council Tax collected by Epping Forest is redistributed to Essex County Council, The Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner’s Office, and local town and parish councils. The 2.99 percent increase on the district council element is factored into the draft budget for 2024/25 as the Council closes a £3.7million shortfall.
Epping Forest District Council’s Leader, Councillor Chris Whitbread said:
Councils up and down the Country are dealing with one of the most difficult budgets they have ever had to balance. Epping Forest District Council is no different and has seen our cost go up much faster than the income we generate. The Council is legally required to balance its books and deliver a budget plan that continues to protect services next year and beyond. This means cutting our cloth to live within our means.
Lowest Council Tax in Essex
Most of Epping Forest District Council’s funding of public services such as waste collection and recycling comes from other sustainable sources of income including business rates, rents from a large commercial property portfolio (including shops and industrial units), fees and charges for facilities such as planning applications, carparks and leisure centres. Proceeds from the Epping Forest Retail Park and Qualis make significant contributions to public services. Money from the recent land sale of part of North Weald Airfield will also help to support next year’s budget. Although councillors are reluctant to approve any increase, Epping Forest District is still expected to have the lowest Council Tax in Essex.
Chris Whitbread, added:
We have always been bold and ambitious for our district. We go far beyond the basics of just collecting the bins, council housing or planning applications. Discretionary services such as the Highway Rangers keep our towns and villages tidy. Additional Police officers safeguard our community. The £33million leisure centre for Epping will become our newest leisure facility alongside centres in Loughton, Waltham Abbey and Ongar. None of this would be achievable without the sound financial platform the Council has followed since the 2000s and the Budget proposed here allows us to continue to provide these services.
However, we all have to recognise the challenges facing us in both our daily lives and as a council providing services to local people. At the outset of the pandemic only 4 years ago, we recognised major challenges would follow. But who could have anticipated the instability of a war in Europe and the economic consequences?
Plan for the future
Councillor John Philip, Cabinet Portfolio Holder responsible for Finance elaborated:
The combination of high inflation and interest rates have impacted all councils, and many are now struggling to balance the books. However, because we have always been prepared to make tough choices and plan for the future, including looking at the economic growth of the district with Google, Epping Forest District Council is in a strong position to continue delivering the important front-line services our residents value most.
The recent sale of part of the North Weald Airfield represents a windfall gain to the Council. We require a sustainable budget that balances from year to year, and a not a budget that relies on unpredictable windfall income. The Budget proposals deal with the issues in front of the Council and set out a plan to balance the budget that doesn’t simply take the easy option of relying on this windfall money. By making the difficult decisions now, the budget proposed is sustainable and future proofs the Council beyond next year.
However, this money does buy the Council extra time to deliver some of the hardest proposed savings in different ways. This allows us to take out some of the most difficult choices, including cutting back on the additional Police officers.
More tough choices still lie ahead, but maintaining our carefully managed approach, we can make sure that we continue to move forward for the benefit of our residents.
Epping Forest District Council is one of the few councils proud to be building new council housing. Council tenants are expected to receive a rent increase of 7.7% in-line with government guidelines, while a £140million capital programme will continue new council house building as well as maintain existing homes over the next 5 years.
The 2.99% Council Tax increase would provide an extra £270,000 towards the £16million general fund.
With the cash sale of land at North Weald already leading to late changes to the draft budget between Overview and Scrutiny and Cabinet on 5 February, further changes are also possible between Cabinet and Council on 20 February.
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