As a country it’s great to finally begin to be able to put the pandemic behind us and to start to plan for the future with a greater sense of certainty and optimism. As we do this, we are also coming to terms with the full cost of the pandemic – both the human toll, and its impact on our finances and the wider economy.
As a Council we have seen a dramatic reduction in income as a direct result of the pandemic and its aftermath, income we rely on to fund local services. This comes at a time when we are also responding to unprecedented levels of demand for local services, particularly from the most vulnerable in our community and those whose lives have been upended by the pandemic.
To protect services that local residents rely on most, the Council’s approach is to reduce costs wherever possible, to direct more of our resources into front line service delivery, and find ways to be more productive than ever. This translates into the Council delivering a record level of efficiency and back-office savings for next year while maintaining the services that residents most value.
The Council is fortunate that its property estate is continuing to generate income to help fund council services, albeit not as much as was possible before the pandemic. This has been a financial lifeline for the Council enabling it to build up its reserves in previous years, and is now helping the Council to meet some of its financial pressures.
Surrey Heath Portfolio Holder for Finance, Cllr Robin Perry said: “This is a challenging time for local government in general, as the reduction in central government funding and the impact of the pandemic continues to take its toll on the income we have available to fund local services.
“In Surrey Heath, our aim has been to set a prudent budget that balances the need to find savings, maintain priority services, make use of available reserves, and ensure that the Council moves progressively to a position where it has enough resources to fund all the services that local residents rely on.”
At the Full Council meeting of 23 February, a £5 per year increase was agreed on the Borough Council-related element of the Council Tax of a Band D property. This equates to just 9.6p per week – a rise of just over 2%, less than half the rate of inflation.
Under current arrangements only 11% of Council Tax and 5% of Business Rates collected locally by SHBC stays with the Borough Council – the remainder of the Council Tax collected goes to Surrey County Council (74%), Surrey Police (14%) and Parish Councils (1%).
Cllr Perry added: “We are acutely aware of the impact the pandemic and cost of living increases are having on people locally. That is why we have continued to keep our costs and Council Tax levels as low as possible. Anyone struggling to pay their Council Tax should contact SHBC to discuss the ways in which we can help.”