Another Council Tax freeze as EHDC looks to the future

Conservative controlled East Hampshire District Council plans to freeze its share of the Council Tax in the coming year – the seventh freeze in nine years.

The freeze has been achieved alongside maintaining, or even improving, services despite the continual erosion of government grants to local authorities.

EHDC Leader Cllr Ferris Cowper says innovation and efficiency has allowed the council to thrive in the face of worsening financial conditions for the public sector.

Cllr Cowper said: “Government grants comprised 44 per cent of our income in 2009/10 but in 2015/16 will only amount to 27 per cent.

“To maintain, and in fact improve, services since 2009-10 while freezing Council Tax and still balancing the books, despite that swingeing loss of income is an astonishing achievement.”

EHDC’s expenditure will be about the same as in 2014/15, with no loss of service and several improvements. Such improvements include 50 per cent more money for Councillor Devolved Grants, three dedicated PCSOs and five number plate recognition cameras dedicated to East Hampshire.

There will be a much bigger motor sport event – Autotest and Autosolo – for young people following last year’s successful trial and a massive programme is underway in Whitehill and Bordon as the foundations of the new town are laid.

Funding from the government continues to fall, even when taking into account new grants, such as the New Homes Bonus, given to local authorities for the first six years after a property has been built or brought into use after a long period unoccupied.

It is expected that government grants will dwindle to zero over the coming decade but the council has ambitions to generate its own income through new business ventures.

“With another freeze on Council Tax and services being maintained or improved the difference is coming from efficiencies and the early stages of our new business ventures strategy,” said Cllr Cowper.

“The income from the new business ventures strategy will enable us to be completely free of dependence on government grants by 2019/20 and we hope that five years after that may enable us to reduce Council Tax to a very small sum indeed, nil if possible.

“Other councils have achieved Council Tax freezes by cutting services wholesale. We’ve done it by taking a hard-nosed attitude to efficiency that compares with the very finest efficiency programmes in the corporate world.

“However as that opportunity gradually reduces, these new income streams will give unlimited life to the retention of that strategy into the future. So much so, that we visualise that the new business ventures strategy could generate so much additional income by 2024-25, that the need to levy Council Tax could disappear altogether.”

Find out more about EHDC’s financial plans at the forthcoming Community Forum  at Alton Maltings on Tuesday 27 January.

The plans are currently under consultation and will not be finalised until EHDC’s Full Council meeting on Thursday February 26.