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Headlines from our 2017-18 budget - 15th Feb

Headlines from our 2017-18 budget - 15th Feb

Last week Cabinet members recommended a budget for the 2017-18 financial year to the full council meeting that will take place this Thursday, 16th February.

Many of our media outlets covered the draft budget when it was announced in December – however, we felt it may be beneficial to outline the key points from the draft budget that were considered by cabinet members.

The budget is developed against a backcloth of substantial externally influenced change and an economic climate that is recovering, with good potential locally, but nevertheless not without continuing pressures and uncertainty.

Council Tax

  • Ashford Borough Council sets the lowest council tax in Kent (the council is proposing to raise council tax on a Band D property by £4 – this is the lowest increase in monetary terms of all 12 district authorities and, based on the provisional figures supplied by all authorities, sees the gap between Ashford and the next lowest authority [Swale] increase from £9.93 to £10.88)
  • Local councils now have a choice of increasing the level at which their council tax is set – either 2% or £5, whichever is greater. Ashford Borough Council cabinet members have recommended to raise it by £4 for a Band D property for 2017-18 – working out to under 8p per week on the average Band D property
  • Ashford Borough Council is the collection authority for council tax and it distributes it to the following authorities accordingly: For every £1 of council tax paid: 73p goes to Kent County Council, 10p goes to Ashford Borough Council, 10p goes to Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, 5p goes to Kent Fire and Rescue Service, and 2p goes to a town or parish council if you live in a parished area.
  • As its level of council tax is one of the lowest in the country, the borough council has previously been given special dispensation by central government to raise its council tax above the level that would normally trigger a local referendum

New Homes Bonus

  • The draft budget assumed a New Homes Bonus payment of £3,424,310 – it was actually £3,394,891 – only £29,419 less than anticipated, indicating the strength of house-building in the borough
  • Changes to the reforms – meaning that the qualification period is to be four years not six years in future, will impact on the amounts accrued

Business Rates

  • Business Rates are £278,000 higher than anticipated – an indication of the good economy being fostered in the borough

Self-sufficiency

  • In October 2014, the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance outlined its vision to build a local government finance system that promotes self-reliance and entrepreneurialism – key themes that the council has long embraced
  • The last revenue support grant from government will be £0.6m and this will be received in the 2017-18 financial year, with the council stating its ambition to be self-sufficient by 2018-19
  • In terms of reserves that are not earmarked for any other purpose, we have £2.3m – we have the autonomy to set our own levels of reserves

Developer contributions

  • We currently have £7.8m in s106 funding - £5.2m of which is earmarked for use on projects, community assets and play areas over the next few years

Thinking commercially

  • We have built a firm foundation on which to develop our commercial ambition
  • Job growth in Ashford has risen by 47% since 1997
  • We’re not just acquiring assets but maintaining them so that they retain their value and maximise the income stream for the authority
  • Work has begun on the Commercial Quarter (CQ38) and is expected to be completed in May 2018
  • The property company, wholly owned by Ashford Borough Council, has currently acquired 21 homes and is contributing £100,000 to the budget
  • Previous reports to cabinet indicate that the acquisitions made by the council, such as International House, Wilko and Ellingham Industrial Estate, have already been delivering solid returns on investment for the council and the taxpayers

Housing Revenue Account

The draft budget report also details how the housing revenue account (HRA) is performing. (The HRA is a separate account into which rent paid by tenants in the council’s housing stock is saved. The money in this account is exclusively for the use of management, maintenance and repairs of these properties). Also included is the council’s approach to using capital receipts (such as the one-for-one revenue generated from Right-to-Buy sales) before considering the use of council reserves. The 1% reduction in housing rents in our council-owned homes has been applied again as it must be, outlined by central government – meaning that the average weekly rent for social housing is now £89.90.

Cllr Neil Shorter, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for Finance, Budget and Resource Management, said: “Previous cabinet reports have indicated that the council is in a strong position financially, through its policy of good asset management, planning ahead and investing in long-term assets that produce a net income.

“Our approach is to earn money through our commercial approach, rather than just taking from central government or our residents. These assets are giving our finances resilience, enabling us to deliver our services across the whole of the borough. This shrewd approach, including the commercial agreement reached on Elwick Place, is precisely what is needed in the current financial climate.”

Media release 0033/17
10/02/17
For further information, please contact our Press Office on 01233 330543 or email mark.james@ashford.gov.uk

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