Council District Council meeting 24th Feb. I am writing this report just before the Council Meeting at 6 pm on 24th Feb which will be broadcast live via the Council’s Facebook page. This meeting is almost entirely about the 2020/2021 budget.
As you can imagine, this year this year has been very challenging in terms of setting a budget for the Council. the pandemic has resulted in a loss of income & increase in expenditure for the District Council. Government grants have covered some but not all of the shortfall, but the budget has been continually reviewed as money & data comes in. We have an excellent financial team, led by Jenny Poole the Chief Finance officer who has now been appointed Deputy CEO. She & her team work with Mike Every the Cabinet member for Finance to present a balanced budget.
Since 1997 when the Council’s housing stock was transferred to a registered provider, the Council’s capital & revenue reserves could be used to fund projects. This windfall is no longer available & the Council needs to borrow to invest in order to generate income. At the moment, interest rates are very low so borrowing is an attractive option. The Council will invest in projects which support its priorities outlined in its corporate plan. This includes socially rented housing, green economic growth, partnership with renewable energy producers & green infrastructure. Any major expenditure needs to be approved by the full Council.
The broad aims of the budget were presented for public review together with a survey in December 2020. Public response was in general favourable. A very large number of written comments were received, needless to say many of them expressed diametrically opposing views. For example, many people supported the aims of the “green agenda” to reduce carbon emissions & to limit climate change, but some people expressed that this was not a priority & was getting too much attention. You can’t please everyone!
The budget papers are extensive & detailed & are available online for your inspection.
Business grants. A further sum of money has been made available from central governments & this is currently being administered. It is a lot of work for the officers involved, & it is vital to sieve out fraudulent applications. The process is taking longer that we would like, but all businesses who are eligible should get further grant funding.
Council tax. Because CDC was well off following the transfer of Council Houses, the Council was able to freeze Council Tax for ten years, other charges were not increased for example parking charges & the green waste collection was heavily supported. The Council has increased Council tax for the last two ears & proposes to do so again this year. This will be at £5.00 for a Band D property i.e. 10p a week. The recent survey revealed some misunderstanding about this. Properties are banded from A – H depending on size with charges made according to the banding. A Band H property will be liable for twice as much council tax as a Band D property, a Band A about two thirds. The council estimates its taxable base as Band D equivalents, which for Cotswold District is just over 42,000. Council tax for Stow residents in Band D this year will be £1,979.44 p.a.
This is distributed as follows:
GCC 71% £1,409.22
Police & Crime Commission – 14% £ 270.08
CDC 7% £ 138.93
Stow Town Council 8% £ 161.21
Holiday lets group. The holiday lets group has now met twice & will continue to meet monthly. The main focus of our attention is larger properties, eight or more which are sometimes known as party houses. However, it is recognised that most of the properties which are let for holidays in our communities are smaller than this. The committee is looking at the possibility of producing guides for landlords & guests to advise on appropriate behaviour which respects the facilities of neighbours. These might include noise limitation, where to park, how to dispose of waste etc. Other suggestions of what could be included would be welcome. We also discussed one of the main issues raised to me by residents which is that the increasing number of properties which are snapped up for use as holiday lets pushes up the price of houses & contributes to the reduction in the number of families & young people who can afford to live in our towns & villages. But this would be a very difficult problem to resolve, although St Ives for example is a town where an attempt has been made to swing the balance towards residents.
Cotswold Crowdfunding – CDC has decided to change the way in which it distributes grants to community projects. As you know, each ward member used to have an annual sum from which community projects in their ward could bid for funding. CDC is now supporting the crowdfunding model through an organisation called Spacehive. This will be for two years in the first instance. Community organisations can put forward projects via the crowdfunding system. Each project needs to set up a web page with details of the project, explaining its aims & target audience with costings which back up the amount of money which they are hoping to raise. This then needs to be publicised in the local community & as money is pledged, CDC will look at the projects & offer support to those which look viable & whose aims the Council would support. The idea is to enable more ambitious projects. Spacehive employs staff to advise on how to pitch your project. There are further virtual presentations in the next couple of weeks which anyone who has a potential project, even if it is just an idea at the moment, is welcome to attend. There will be two rounds of applications for grants from CDC, in April & then again in the autumn, & then the same next year.
Flooding Following the significant flooding in the south of the District in December, CDC organised a flood forum which was attended by over 100 residents. One of the main frustrations expressed was the lack of communication between the different organisations involved & residents often didn’t know to whom they could turn for help. While Stow is unlikely to suffer from severe flooding, if it does we shall all be building an ark, standing water on the road where drains & gullies are blocked has been a problem, particularly when there was a hard frost earlier this month. Residents in Swell were also affected by overflowing sewers which is unacceptable. The District Council is trying to get the various agencies involved to work together to come to a plan, to put in place remedial measures during the summer months & to let residents know to whom they can turn in a crisis.
Planning & enforcement – Our planning officers are under a lot of pressure at the moment, each officer is dealing with a very large number of cases. This also applies to the enforcement team, there are four enforcement officers with 487 live cases. the current situation with the impossibility of doing site visits has created extra difficulties for the team. Recruitment for new officers is ongoing. We now have a very proactive CEO in place, Rob Weaver who works in conjunction with Jan Britton, CEO of Publica, so hopefully the staffing issues can be resolved.
Stow Fair will be upon us in less than three months. I expect that it won’t go ahead under current guidelines, but as there is constant change, I will try to get an answer by the beginning April.
Finally – as I say every time, the officers & Cabinet members at CDC are here to support the community & are keen to engage with Town & Parish Councils. You will receive notice of virtual events which are open to local councillors & please let Heather or me know if you would like help & advice from any of the team at CDC.