For the first time ever, East Sussex CC has set out its intentions with a four-year plan on council tax rises and the message is clear - the increase will be driven down year on year as long as there are no more significant future changes in grant from Government. The plan is for a 4.7% rise for 2006/07, despite the poor government grant increase for next year, and then a steady reduction in the rise for the following three years of 4.3%, 3.9% and 3.5% respectively.
The proposal was agreed yesterday at the Council's Cabinet Committee. Deputy Council Leader, Tony Reid, said: 'We've had a succession of poor financial deals from central Government but despite this, there are two things we are very clear about. Our priorities are to drive down council tax increases and make sure that we still provide services for the most vulnerable and elderly, as well as our children and young people.
'All being well, council tax bills will only increase by 3.5% by 2009/10 as part of our prudent financial plan to reduce council tax over the next four years.'
Other highlights of the budget announcement today, which all have to be approved by the full County Council meeting on 21 February, include:
-- an extra£7.8m cash for Adult Social Care;
-- an extra£1.8m for Children's Services outside schools;
-- increased cash for highways maintenance;
--£100,000 to fund another year of the successful campaign with Age Concern to help ensure elderly people claim the benefits they are entitled;
-- continued investment in major schemes such as developing the Hastings and Bexhill link road and new school buildings such as Tideway School in Newhaven;
--£200,000 to focus on preventative initiatives for young people.
'This is a very difficult balancing act with residents on the one hand who want council tax increases reduced and, on the other, people who use our services who need and expect our help,' said Councillor Reid.
'We have the highest number of over 85s in the UK and the cost of looking after our older residents is going through the roof. We believe Government has failed to recognise this. We have done all we can by putting millions of pounds more into Adult Social Care but real painful savings will still be required. Against that we have been given a paltry 2% increase in grant by the Government for this coming year, which is below inflation. In cash terms, this represents an extra£1.6m, only 0.6% of our budget outside of schools. Despite the best efforts of everyone to lobby Government, we are left with a yawning gap in our funds. But we are pleased for our schools who have been given an extra 6.8% directly from Government.
'The drive for efficiencies within the Council will continue and we have an annual target of£35m saved by 2009/10. We will also be looking for increased productivity and efficiency and putting£1m into the budget for Invest to Save schemes.
'All this must be achieved in order to reduce the rate of increase of council tax. But alongside this, some painful decisions will have to be made about which services could be cut and I want to stress that we don't do this lightly. Providing Government does not make our grant situation even worse in the future, we believe we now have a sound long term plan that will deliver increasingly lower council tax increases and still allow us to provide essential services.'