Bucking national trend and investing £1.5m in community welfare

Monday, 25 February, 2019

East Hampshire District Council's share of Council Tax has been frozen and £1.5 million has been put aside to help the community, it was unanimously agreed at Full Council last night.

The Council Tax freeze will be welcome news to residents and is the sixth consecutive year that EHDC’s share of tax has been either held or cut.

As well as the tax freeze the council also plans to use savings on expenditure and money drawn from reserves to set up a £1 million fund for community grants and a £500,000 fund for welfare projects.

The budget has been rigorously and robustly scrutinised and this has included being examined in detail at the council’s Governance Audit and Scrutiny Committee.

EHDC Leader, Cllr Richard Millard, said: “We’re prioritising welfare because we genuinely want to make a tangible difference to people’s lives.

“I want us to be able to support groups who have people on the ground helping those in our community who desperately need support at 3am - and our funding will make the difference between them being there and them not being there.

“This month we held our youth conference and there were about 80 youngsters taking part and learning how to tackle stress – if just one of them is now equipped to help someone else then we’ve made a difference. And this is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about.

“The officer team has been phenomenal. Their commercial acumen and business-minded approach has enabled us to freeze Council Tax, ensure our excellent services continue - as well as dedicating £1.5 million to community projects and welfare causes.”

The freeze on Council Tax will mean each Band D property pays £131.11 for the services it receives from East Hampshire District Council. This is a lower amount than residents paid in 2010 and reflects the council’s ongoing ambition to not rely on government grants and annual increases in Council Tax.

EHDC has only increased its share of Council Tax three times since 2007.

Each council service was challenged to identify savings of 10 per cent, freeing more than £350,000.

This money has been put towards launching the £1m Community Grant Fund and the £500,000 Welfare Fund. The remainder was drawn from reserves.

The Community Grant Fund will help local groups pay for ongoing costs and will help fund one-off projects.

The Welfare Fund will go towards events and projects that will help East Hampshire maintain vibrant, caring and healthy communities in which the most vulnerable can reach their full potential.

Cllr Guy Shepherd, EHDC Portfolio Holder for Finance, said: “We are bucking the trend nationally and locally.

“Not only have we frozen Council Tax but we’re still investing in our community. For example we’re building two brand new leisure centres and refurbishing another.

“We have a really robust plan in place to deliver our strategy and invest in our community.”

Cllr Julie Butler, EHDC Portfolio Holder for Community and Welfare, said: “I am delighted that we’re investing in our community. We are doing something really positive which will really make a difference to the most vulnerable people in our area.”

A total of £29,000 has also been put aside to provide Council Tax support for care leavers, young people who have grown up in the care system and may need help to live independently.

Alongside these savings the council will continue to deliver high quality public services which are shaped to meet the needs of customers. A Digital Strategy and a Customer Access Strategy will make it easier for our customers to access services.

The council is also committed to generating income through its Pricing Strategy and further investment in its commercial property portfolio. The council is building a portfolio of £200 million using the Public Works Loan Board, which allows councils to borrow at preferential rates of interest.