Wiltshire Council's Medium Term Financial and Efficiency Plan 2017-2020, and why it's bad news for Wiltshire.
In February this year the government set out a new procedure for funding local councils, based on a four year plan.
The deal includes a commitment to increase council tax by 4% a year, as happened when the current year's budget was set. As the 4% is of course cumulative it means that by 2020 your bill will have increased by 22% over its 2015 level.
A report to Tuesday's council meeting sets out the options. Anyone reading the report would be struck by its semi-literate nature. Here's an example:
"(DCLG) issued a proposed four year settlement offer to council's covering 2016 to 2020. Councils' had until October 2016 to accept this offer."
Two attempts to work out what the plural of council is. Two different answers, both of them wrong.
This is of course not important - Wiltshire Council is only the Education Authority so who cares about grammar?
Is the report better on numeracy than literacy? The good news is that yes, it is, and would probably get at least five marks out of ten.
Cuts continue. The government's 'Revenue Support Grant' declines from £35million in the current financial year to zero in 2019/20. There are however changes to business rates. About half of the county's business rates currently get taken by the government. Under the proposals a higher proportion would stay in Wiltshire. The figure for business rates in Wiltshire is currently around £53m per year, and this is expected to rise by about £1m per year. The government would still take about £19m per year of this.
The government is also permitting receipts from capital sales to be used for revenue funding, though with strict limitations. Wiltshire Council was founded on the concept of asset-stripping the old District Councils, and part of its difficulties have been caused by the relatively low sale values of these over the last few years. It seems unlikely that further asset-stripping would solve the cash-strapped council's funding problems.
The deal is that WC has to set out a so-called 'Efficiency Statement' explaining what it will do over the next four years. Wiltshire's statement is so riddled with uncertainties and assumptions as to be meaningless.
Assumption - this year's budget will be balanced by the end of the year. (Currently £8m overdrawn with no indication of how this will be fixed by March 2017.)
Assumptions - house building continues to create new council tax income: inflation, business rates, staff costs and pension outlays all behave themselves: demand for adult and children's social care doesn't spiral out of control: the economy doesn't crash during the EU exit process.
Assumption - the government doesn't bring in any more cuts.
There is also the threat to cap parish and town councils at 2%, which would affect the WC policy of shunting costs on to them.
So a decidedly dodgy deal is on offer, which WC will accept in its usual fawning and grovelling approach to central government. Anything with so many uncertainties and risks is however likely to go wrong somewhere along the way, and the consequences for the services our rocketing council tax is meant to deliver for us could be serious.
The scheme was approved by Wiltshire Council at its meeting on October 18th. Conservatives and Labour supported it with the Lib Dems opposing.