Richmond Council will be putting household budgets first as it announces its lowest Council Tax increase for five years and freezes fees and charges.
The Council will be keeping the rise in Council Tax as low as possible to avoid adding additional strain on individuals’ finances after the toughest year in a decade. The plans will be discussed at the Finance, Resource and Performance Committee meeting this week, after which the Council will consider the proposal to raise its element of Council Tax by just 0.6%.
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As the world enters the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Richmond upon Thames residents are experiencing hardship, over 9,000 receiving Council Tax reductions.
Helping residents when they need it the most is behind the decision not to raise Council Tax by the full 1.99% allowed by government, as well as freezing all fees and charges and providing up to an additional £150 reduction for those receiving Council Tax relief.
The Council is able to give residents this respite, while still supporting the borough’s core services and assisting the most vulnerable coming out of the pandemic. The 2021/22 budget will ensure the health and economic impacts of the pandemic are mitigated as far as possible.
The Council has agreed a further 3.0 % increase in the precept for Adult Social Care, as allowed under government funding plans. Services to support an ageing and vulnerable population are critical, now more than ever. The number of residents relying on care services is increasing as the pandemic continues to impact the mental and physical health and wellbeing of more and more people.
Investment will also be made in children’s social care services, allowing for a number of areas of growth in demand and costs, such as children’s safeguarding, with an increasing number of children and young people in the borough requiring support.
The Council has also allocated budget to promote a strong local recovery and to continue to deliver key priorities including tackling the climate emergency and the provision of affordable housing. This includes:
- Investment in the planning service
- Supporting the local economy and independent businesses
- Delivery of the Climate Emergency Action Plan
- Contributions to enable Affordable Housing provision
- Investment to maintain roads, buildings and infrastructure
- An allocation to allow response to changing needs in the next year due to the pandemic
The underfunding in the area of Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) support continues to be substantial. The Council is having to provide against the shortfall to protect these vital services and meet growing costs of provision. There is a projected £18 million funding gap by the end of the year. This threat to the council’s finances is currently being discussed with the Department for Education.
The precept charged by the London Mayor is increasing by 9.51%. This means that the total band D bill will increase to £1958.66.
Councillor Robin Brown, Richmond Council Lead Member for Finance, said:
“We have spent the last few years carefully managing the Council’s finances to ensure will can deliver a fair finance deal for everyone.
“I am delighted that this hard work has put us in a position to give residents some relief as we head into a second tough year.
“There are still challenges that we have to overcome, such as the significant loss to our income from our parking and leisure services and the increase in levels of waste and recycling we collect as residents continue to spend more time at home. But we will make sure that we deliver the excellent services our residents expect including those that keep our most vulnerable residents safe, and continue to progress the Council’s key priorities such as the climate emergency strategy and the provision of affordable housing.
“Of course, we do still need the Government to meet its obligations, especially regarding SEND funding and the COVID-19 recovery. Local councils are also waiting for clarity around business rate relief for the next financial year - we need the Government to give more certainty so that the council and local businesses can make plans and ensure a strong recovery.
“One of the positives that has come out of this past year is the extraordinary displays of community spirit and resilience we have seen. Our voluntary sector have worked extremely hard alongside the Council to provide support to our most vulnerable residents during the pandemic. They of course need continued support and funding. If you are in a position to contribute a bit more this year you can contribute to the Richmond Voluntary Fund, which is supporting local Children’s Mental Health Charities.”
– from a Richmond Council press release - 17 February 2021