Wealden councillors back budget and council tax rise

One of the most contentious parts of the budget is the introduction of a charge on green waste bins
One of the most contentious parts of the budget is the introduction of a charge on green waste bins

Wealden councillors have backed proposals to increase council tax by 2.7 per cent.

At a meeting on Wednesday (February 20), Conservative-controlled Wealden District Council set its budget for 2019/20, including a £5 annual increase in its share of council tax.

According to council documents, the increase means the average Band D council taxpayer will pay the district council £3.70 a week – an increase of 10p on last year.

Introducing the budget proposals, council leader Bob Standley said: “I think we are all aware that local government financing is challenging, to say the least, and has been for many years.

“But, as I have said in previous budget presentations, Wealden has weathered that storm and I want to thank all the finance team for all the work they have put in, not only in the last year but in previous years.

“The most significant change in the budget relates to the cost of waste collection.

“The new contractor Biffa starts in July and the additional cost to collection is £1.4m. In addition, recyclate and residual waste will be sent to East Sussex County Council as the disposal authority which adds another £1.3m.

“Charging for the opt-in – and it is an opt-in – service of garden waste [collection] is budgeted to receive £1.5m, which leaves a net £1.2m to be found through council tax.”

Cllr Standley also spoke about further reductions in Government funding and increased income from the council’s commercial projects, including the Horam crematorium and the Vicarage Field shopping centre.

He said: “The commercial projects will make a significant contribution to income in 2019/20 and replace some of the money Government feels no longer able to give local government.”

He also welcomed how Government plans for so-called negative Revenue Support Grant (RSG) had been abandoned, meaning the council will retain around £875,000 originally intended to be paid to the treasury.

However he warned of a need to find further savings in future, estimated at around £500,000 a year between 2020/21 and 2023/24

While the proposals won the support of the majority of councillors, members of the Independent Democrat Group abstained from the vote.

Stephen Shing, the group’s leader, criticised the council for raising council tax and introducing charges to collect garden waste bins.

Cllr Shing said: “I would like to restate that our group is strongly against this council tax bypass by increasing garden waste [collections] by £50.

“It has also been said the charge of £50 for garden waste will increase 15 per cent of council tax set.

“Councillors Standley and Galley said people have a choice but the fact is there is no choice. Residents have to pay for the wrong decision to outsource the waste collection service and the appointment of the wrong contractors.”

Cllr Shing’s comments came in for criticism from several Conservative councillors, including the council’s lead member for economic development and waste management Roy Galley.

Cllr Galley said: “I do have to say, very firmly, that Cllr Shing is talking a total load of rubbish.

“He seemed to be suggesting that taxpayers are paying for contracting out. No, we’ve saved £5m over five years.

“If Cllr Shing [doesn’t] want that saving, well are you going to put council tax or what are you going to slash in terms of our services.

“It is your responsibility Cllr Shing to say what you would do. What savings are you going to make?”

At a final vote the budget was set with 42 councillors in favour and three abstentions. A total of 10 councillors were not present at the meeting.