Somerset West and Taunton’s ambitious vision for tackling climate change, driving major commercial investment and building more homes is the focus for the new budget.
The emphasis during 2019/20 has been on delivering stability and improvement following a significant period of disruption during the transformation programme.
The proposed budget for 2020/21 will increase spending in some areas as operational efficiencies and increased customer self-service are delivered; it also reflects the direction of the financial strategy which seeks to grow the Council’s income through commercial investment.
Some of the highlights in the proposed budget include:
- Continuing to subside the County Council’s park and ride contract which helps reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions.
- Funding to enable the Council to make early progress on its climate and environmental commitments whilst the development of a new Environment Strategy comes forward.
- Enhanced dredging of Watchet Harbour to improve access and benefit the local economy.
- £12m investment in capital projects, including improvements to the energy system at Wellington Sports Centre (£0.25m) and Watchet East Quay harbour wall (£0.74m), provision of grants for disability and accessibility adaptations making it easier for people to live in their homes (£1.27m), contributing to improvements in public transport, cycle and pedestrian infrastructure (£1.5m), and major investment in flood alleviation and mitigation works (£2.5m).
- Additional investment in larger town centre street cleaning services.
- Progressing the development of a new Local Plan for Somerset West and Taunton.
- Over £7m in improvements to council housing stock and £6.9m invested in new social housing.
- Increased investment in preventing homelessness and providing temporary accommodation where needed.
- Prudent allocations to reserves to provide greater resilience to financial risks.
Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts, Leader of SWT, has told Tone News:
“From the climate crisis, to regenerating our town centres and rejuvenating communities, this budget is focused on our people, our communities and all our futures. We can start to deliver real change after inheriting a very tough financial situation from the previous council. We’ve managed to stabilise without cutting services. Now the work can begin”.
The proposed budget for 2020/21 is balanced without the need to draw on general reserves.
It proposes a council tax increase of 3.17% a year (£5 per year on a Band D property), making the annual Band D charge £164.63 – or £3.16 per week. The increase provides an additional £282,000 in income, which covers less than half of the inflation increase in the costs of the services we provide.
The Band D tax rate includes £1.75 for the Somerset Rivers Authority to fund its programme of flood prevention and mitigation works.
The proposed budget also includes a precept of £29,240 in special expenses for the Unparished Area of Taunton, which results in an annual council tax rate of £1.91 for a Band D for the unparished Area of Taunton.
The budget proposals will be considered by the Council’s Scrutiny Committee today (5 February) and the Executive on 10 February, with the final decisions made by Full Council on Thursday 19 February.
Somerset West and Taunton’s share of the overall Council tax bill is about nine per cent of the total with the remainder going to fund Somerset County Council, Police and Fire services, and Town and Parish councils.