Cllr Marcus Hart is the Leader of Wyre Forest District Council.
I was delighted to be able to lead a Council this year that froze council tax. This is the fifth time in seven years that we have managed to do this.
It does get harder because, of course, we no longer benefit from the freeze grant and by 2019-2020, the Revenue Support Grant will have disappeared.
In Wyre Forest we made a manifesto commitment in 2015 to keep Council tax increases to below the rate of inflation over the medium term and with inflation being so low over the last years that has meant freezing.
What I would say is that as a good well-run Conservative Council, we believe in keeping council tax and any increases as low as possible.
I am certain we will have to increase council tax next year and further over the medium term as freezing is not sustainable forever, but I do not believe that we should just as a matter of routine increase council tax by 1.9 per cent or £5 whichever is the higher.
After all, capping was introduced to prevent irresponsible, mostly Labour-run of course, authorities from simply making large council tax increases before looking at driving out waste and inefficiency and driving a reform and modernisation agenda, all of which we are doing in Wyre Forest, coupled with an income generation agenda to grow our business to make it self sufficient by 2020.
As ways of income generation we have a trade waste collection, green waste collection, hire out our cleansing team and tree gang. We also hire out our HGV driver training and our garage undertake MOT’s for the public. All of these services are undertaken by our depot. Our income in these areas continues to grow year on year.
We have our own museum where the shop makes a profit and a town hall which puts on events all bringing in an income. Both venues now host weddings and we have a marketing strategy and income generation group made up of officers and cabinet members.
We centralised our office accommodation from six sites onto one, a brand new HQ, which has led to a revenue saving of £500,000 per annum. We maximise income by having a number of permanent private and public sector tenants and renting out the accommodation to a wide variety of users and have income of circa £250,000 per annum.
We closed two ageing leisure centres which we subsided to the sum of £900,000 per annum. Working with a private leisure provider for a design, build, operate and manage scheme we have a brand new leisure centre, saving taxpayers £500,000 per annum and securing a £2 million grant from Sport England towards the capital cost.
We have a Wyre Forest Forward programme and systems thinking to strip out unnecessary cost and waste. We have procedures to make our systems and processes as lean and efficient as possible and have a digital first strategy encouraging as many residents as possible to interact with us electronically.