How does Chorley Council plan to balance its books?

Chorley Council has to find savings of over 1m in each of the next three years.
Chorley Council has to find savings of over 1m in each of the next three years.
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Chorley Council will have to bridge a budget gap of almost £4m within the next three years.

The authority has set out its draft financial plan for the next twelve months. It includes a 2.99 percent increase in council tax in 2019/20 and a review of the fees charged to residents for some services.

The proposals were approved by cabinet members and will now be put to the full council for a final decision next month.

Deputy leader of the Labour-run authority, Peter Wilson, said the council tax hike was not a decision which had been taken "easily".

"But in terms of the services we provide, I still believe residents get good value for money from the council," he added.

The cabinet heard that savings of nearly £1.5m have already been identified for the next financial year - the bulk of which come from a fresh contract for household waste collection which begins in April. Papers presented to the meeting state that the new deal will deliver an "enhanced" service for households, but cost the council 30 percent less than the previous arrangement.

Chorley's recent rapid housing expansion will also bring in an extra £600,000 in council tax compared to just four years ago. Meanwhile, premiums charged on empty homes will double to 100 percent of their council tax bill in an attempt to bring the properties back into use.

However, members were also warned of two significant risks to the council's coffers - both of which concern business rates.

The trust which runs Chorley Hospital has joined a nationwide legal action claiming hospitals should be classed as charities for business rates purposes. If successful, the cost to Chorley Council is estimated to be a lump sum of £1.7m and an annual reduction in income of £200,000.

And while the authority is expecting a boost from a government pilot scheme which allows Lancashire councils to keep 75 percent of the business rates they collect, there are fears the additional cash could be short-lived. Chorley expects the way that income is split between district authorities and the county council could cost it £700,000 per year from 2020.

As of this year, Chorley will lose all of its remaining revenue support cash from the government and its draft budget includes a plan to generate £145,000 from new or increased fees for selected services.

While some charges, like garden waste collection, will be frozen, others - including various licences and pest control - will see significant rises.

Conservative opposition member Eric Bell questioned whether previous freezes in fees had been misguided.

"Are we not at fault for not putting them up for several years and then, when we have to, it ends up being by quite a lot?" he asked.

Cllr WIlson accepted that an annual inflationary or costs increase might need to be considered in future, but added that the review of charges was intended to bring Chorley in line with other districts without becoming "extortionate".

If the proposals are accepted, a new fee of £61 will be introduced for tackling rodents in domestic premises, while the cost of clearing bedbugs will quadruple to £161. Meanwhile, licences for houses of multiple occupation will approximately double depending on the number of residents.

Elsewhere, the council will launch a consultation on whether to continue providing a contribution to fund three police and community support officers in the borough - and where to reallocate the money if not.

More than a £1m will be invested in the council's corporate priorities, including annual events like the flower show, as well as supporting the new Youth Zone.

And plans to make money from the council's assets will see part of the top floor of Market Walk opened up for office space for small businesses, while the Town Hall will be promoted as a conference venue.