RUGBY residents’ annual Council Tax bills will go up by around £65 for the next financial year.
Rugby Borough Council (RBC) has voted to increase its share of Council Tax by £5 a year for an average Band D property – taking the total rise to £65 when added to bigger hikes previously announced by Warwickshire County Council (WCC) and Warwickshire Police.
The rise was rubber-stamped by the council when approving its 2021-22 budget on Tuesday (February 23).
A spokesman said the the budget maintained all council services and supported a new Corporate Strategy which prioritised addressing climate change, supporting economic recovery, and improving health and wellbeing of residents post-pandemic.
The tax rise will help RBC fill a budget gap caused in part by the removal of the Revenue Support Grant from central government – which gave the council nearly £890,000 in 2010-11 but has been phased out over the last ten years.
RBC is also projected to receive £800,000 less in retained business rates and New Homes Bonus funding than in 2020-21.
The Council Tax rise will provide £235,000 of additional income, while savings and new income sources will cover £760,000 in a budgeted shortfall – and, in a one-off move for 2021-22, £1.2million will be funded from reserves.
RBC leader Coun Seb Lowe said: “While there is now the hope of an end to the pandemic later this year, the impact of Covid-19 has been significant and will be felt for some time.
“Councillors from all parties have backed the council’s response to the pandemic. It was right to prioritise support for our most vulnerable residents such as our work to support the clinically extremely vulnerable and I am grateful in particular to the opposition group leaders for their agreement at key moments of our response.
“Nevertheless the pandemic has seen our costs increase and income decrease. Through prudent financial management we have sufficient reserves to protect the services that residents value over the next year, but we will continue to look to alternative sources of funding for future years.
“Our priority will be to address the climate emergency, support economic recovery and improve health and wellbeing. We have committed through our new Corporate Strategy to work with our communities to do what’s right for Rugby.
“As we transition from a response phase to recovery, we will be able to accelerate our work on a new vision for Rugby’s town centre, on environmental improvements and on closing the gap on health and wellbeing.”
Labour Group leader Coun Maggie O’Rourke said RBC was being ’starved out’ by the government.
She said: “A large percentage of additional costs incurred by this council over the last 12 months are a direct result of the pandemic. And it comes on top of this government’s austerity program which has lasted for more than 10 years.
“This borough is facing one of the toughest financial climates in living memory. Its future hangs in the balance. We are being starved out, forced down the unitary authority road that this government so clearly wants.
“The Council is facing very tough choices, including for the first time in my memory having to use our reserves to meet the financial shortfall.
“Local authorities like RBC have become the fourth emergency service through this pandemic. They have moved heaven and earth to support communities and they’ve done a fantastic job.
“But without the appropriate funding from central government, they simply don’t have the resources to do the job they want to do and that we need them to do.”
Liberal Democrat Group leader Coun Jerry Roodhouse said: “This budget is the most challenging I have been involved in for years. Next year the Borough faces cuts in the millions of pounds.
“A cross party approach is needed now more than ever to put our differences to one side.”
WCC has already approved an increase in its share of Council Tax, equivalent to £45 a year for an average Band D property.
Of the 2.99 per cent increase, one per cent will be ring-fenced for adult social care, with the remaining 1.99 per cent to cover all other services.
The approved budget includes £136million of permanent investments over the next five years, including £9.1million in children’s social care services, £8.2million to protect elderly citizens and vulnerable adults, and £3.8million to support children and young people with disabilities for next year alone.
However, the Conservative-controlled authority has also had to make across-the-board cuts of some £47million.
Opposition members said central government was forcing councils to put up Council Tax while making cuts to residents’ services, and pushing more of the burden for social care onto local authorities.
Warwickshire Police has also increased its share of Council Tax by the equivalent of £15 extra a year on a Band D property, to allow the force to ‘deliver improved services to the public without spending more than it receives’.
Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Philip Seccombe said the rise would fund 41 new officers, more Independent Sexual Violence Advisors, and more resources for teams working with vulnerable victims, child exploitation and trafficking.
But the Conservative PCC’s opponents said residents would be ‘paying more and getting less’, claiming constables would be taken off the streets to fill the roles of 87 police staff members who will be made redundant under the force’s ‘ongoing transformational change programme’.
Visit www.rugby.gov.uk/budget2021 for more information on RBC’s 2021-22 budget.