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District Council Balances the Budget and Supports Residents

10 February 2022

South Hams Logo - graphic image of blue sky, two white outline seagulls, two green hills dipping together with blue sea in the middle and a yellow sun rising from the sea.

South Hams District Council is coping well with the financial challenges from Covid-19 and continues to support vulnerable people within the community.

On Thursday 10 February, Full Council heard proposals for how it would set a balanced budget for 2022/2023.

Councillors agreed to a small increase in Council Tax of £5 per year, meaning a Band D property would pay £180.42 this year to the District Council for all of its services. This figure amounts to an increase of less than 10p per week.

Recent changes to Government funding means the Council no longer receives any Government grant (Revenue Support Grant), a loss of £4 million per year, therefore the Council has to be self-sufficient to fund all of its services.

These factors, along with COVID-19, are issues that have caused financial strain for all councils up and down the country where they have found themselves in a 'perfect storm'. However, due to careful financial management, and difficult decisions, South Hams District Council is well placed to meet the current financial challenges.

Along with the main services that residents already know about, there are many others they may not be aware the Council provides. Those that help to protect residents' wellbeing and the District's economy to help keep the South Hams a beautiful place to live, work or visit.

The Council is ready and willing to give support to the people of the South Hams and this Budget ensures that they will be able to provide it to those in the District who most need it. In the past year alone, the Council has supported residents in the following ways.

£84 million of vital COVID Business Grants have been paid out to support hard hit South Hams' businesses during the pandemic. A lifeline to many, protecting businesses and jobs to keep the economy of the District alive.

Throughout the pandemic, in Test and Trace funding, the Council has paid out £360,000 and supported 720 residents who desperately needed help. South Hams has also provided assistance with issues such as debt, domestic abuse or safeguarding. Without this dedicated service, these residents may never have received the care they needed.

One of the Council's main priorities is to support residents with the housing crisis the South Hams is currently facing. So, they are working on a variety of housing initiatives to help wherever they can. Through their Emergency Housing Fund, £158,000 has been allocated to help vulnerable residents with a further £50,000 paid out through the Household Support Fund.

Support for vulnerable homeless people is continuing through the valuable work of a permanent Rough Sleeper Outreach Worker who helps those who sleep rough, or are at real risk of doing so.

At the moment, the Council is supporting over 5,100 households and has awarded over £5.8m to reduce residents' bills through the Council Tax Reduction Scheme. Together with an extra £112,000 in Discretionary Housing Payments, with £20,000 more to follow by the end of March. To help prevent further worry, financial advice is also given.

A grant bid for £1.75m has now been secured which will help improve energy efficiency in South Hams' homes occupied by some of the area's most vulnerable residents. This will not only help the wellbeing of those residents and cut their energy bills, but will also help towards the Council's climate change target to be net zero in the District by 2050.

In line with the Council's 'Better Lives for All' goals to fund projects that will contribute to a net-zero South Hams, £200,000 of funds is being allocated towards a community composting initiative.

The Council continues to support not only the local economy through leisure facilities, but also the visitor economy, providing business support and advice and providing grants for key town and coastal areas.

Cllr Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council, said: "This Budget proposes an increase in Council Tax of £5 a year, an increase of less than 10 pence per week. 

"Whilst any increase is regrettable, it is right that we raise funding by a small amount to ensure that we can deliver our services to everyone, and especially those who need our help the most. Our residents are facing a significant rise in the cost of living and there is no doubt that the support this Council provides will be needed by more people, more often. We are ready and willing to give that support and this Budget ensures that we will be able to. 

"Each year the Council annually spends around £750,000 resourcing crucial services for those who need it, providing housing services, benefits services and schemes such as the green homes grants. At the same time, through the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, we ensure that those in financial hardship are able to pay less Council Tax, but get the full range of support services.

"The positive impact and help this Council can offer more often than not goes unseen and unspoken, as indeed it should. But just occasionally, at times such as now, we must take the time to articulate the role the Council has and the difference it makes to people's lives."

These are only some of the very many services that the District Council offers for less than one tenth of the annual Council Tax bill. The Council offers real value for money with only 8p of every £1 paid (8%) in Council Tax being received by South Hams District Council to pay for their services.

The District Council is also responsible for the collection of Council Tax on behalf of a number of statutory services, including Fire, Police, County Council and Town and Parish Councils. It is often assumed that all the money collected goes to the District Council, however that is clearly not the case.

To find out more about the report presented at the Full Council meeting, go to: www.southhams.gov.uk/Full-Council

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