Harlow Council’s budget proposals for 2020 to 2021, which protect services, protect jobs and create new job opportunities, have been published.
Under the proposals, Harlow Council’s share of the Council Tax bill will increase by 1.99% from 1 April 2020. This is an extra 9p a week, which is just £4.92 a year for a Band C household. Although Harlow Council sends out Council Tax bills it doesn’t keep all the money. Harlow Council currently only keeps £15 of every £100 collected with the rest split between Essex Police, the Fire Service and Essex County Council.
The budget proposals include:
- No redundancies and no cuts or closures to any services for the seventh successive year.
- Funding for 14 new jobs to help deliver the council’s priorities for the town.
- Full funding for Pets’ Corner to be re-established in to the main budget from 2020 to 2021.
- Funding for Harlow Museum so it continues to be run and developed by the council.
- Funding for public events like the Harlow Carnival, Bonfire & Fireworks Night and Christmas lights in the town centre.
- More money to prevent homelessness.
- Fees in council-owned car parks frozen for the seventh year running.
- One-hour free parking to continue in neighbourhood shopping centres and in the Town Park.
- New, cheaper, all-year-round garden waste collections costing £42 a year (for new subscribers there will be an additional £30 one-off setup fee).
In 2020 to 2021 £422,000 of savings are proposed by the administration to help meet rising costs. The Council Tax increase of 1.99% will generate around £140,000 for the council.
The proposals also set out the housing budget for 2020 to 2021, which include:
- A 2.7% rent increase for tenants – from 6 April 2020 the average weekly housing rent will be £92.28.
- Funding continues to be put aside for any further fire safety measures to council-managed tower blocks once the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry has concluded.
- Money towards providing new online services so council tenants can view their rent accounts and report repairs at any time of the day.
The proposals set out in the capital programme will see the council investing in:
- The start of a £12 million programme of building new council and affordable homes in Harlow.
- £5.5 million in further safety and compliance works including fire safety measures in council homes.
- £10 million on other improvements to existing council homes.
- £5 million in the Harlow Science Park development.
- A range of measures in operational and commercial buildings to improve energy efficiency and reduce the council’s carbon footprint.
Councillor Mark Ingall, Leader of Harlow Council, said:
“This budget is very good news for Harlow. Not only does it protect services and jobs, it creates new jobs, invests in services and delivers the big priorities for Harlow, which are new housing and improving our town.
“When protecting services we mean no cuts to things like cleaning the streets, grass cutting, community safety, environmental health and waste and recycling services. But it also means we will continue to provide a range of much-loved services, facilities and events for families like the Playhouse, open spaces and parks, playgrounds, the paddling pools, Fireworks Night, Pets’ Corner, the street carnival and services like the Leah Manning Centre which provides essential daycare for older people in the town.
“There is, however, some uncertainty beyond next year with the government yet to announce how councils will be funded in future. All we can do is make sure we are prepared and that we continue to do what we can to take control of our own finances. For example our successful local authority trading company HTS continues to bring money back to the council. Small, sustainable Council Tax increases have helped protect services and jobs. Yes, there will be another small Council Tax increase but, for just an extra 9p a week, there won’t be any Harlow Council services cut or redundancies, and there will be investment in creating jobs and investment in continuing to make Harlow a great place. How many other councils will raise Council Tax but also cut services and jobs?”
Councillor Mike Danvers, Portfolio Holder for Resources, said:
“We continue to do everything we can to protect services, protect council jobs and invest in improving opportunities for Harlow.
“Over the last 13 years the government has cut our funding by over £22 million so protecting services and jobs has been a huge challenge, particularly in recent years. I am very proud that for seven years in a row we have managed to protect our services from cuts and there have been no compulsory job losses. There aren’t many councils who can say that they have not cut services or made any job cuts over the last seven years.
“But, with the good news comes some uncertainty for the future of council finances. Our priority is that, through careful and thoughtful financial decisions, Harlow remains in the right place to deal with the opportunities and challenges which may come.”
Commenting on the housing and capital programme proposals, Councillor Mark Wilkinson, Portfolio Holder for Housing, said:
“This is a good budget for our 9,000 tenants. While rents are proposed to increase, it does mean that we can continue to protect services and invest in improving council homes. Our priority is to make sure that council homes are safe and pleasant places in which to live. Money will be allocated for home improvements, energy efficiency and safety works. Our proposals also include a £12 million housebuilding programme to start this year with further housebuilding plans in the pipeline for future years.”
The administration’s budget proposals will be recommended to Cabinet next Thursday (23 January 2020) and debated at Full Council on 30 January 2020. The Cabinet reports for the general fund and housing budget proposals can be viewed on the agenda page for the Cabinet meeting.