A PROPOSED council tax rise of 2.99 per cent and a two per cent increase in the adult social care precept for the next financial year will go to public consultation.

Cabinet member for finance at Westmorland and Furness Council Andrew Jarvis set out the £5m budget gap in the council’s books for next year at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday in Kendal Town Hall.

Beyond the next financial year, there will be savings of £15 million to find by 2027/28, according to a report.

The government's precept increase to support Adult Social Care Services will be implemented in line with the financial plan under these proposals. Councillors approved a public consultation on two proposals - the council tax increase and a 100 per cent property premium on empty homes for one year, slated for the following financial year from April 1 2025.

The closing date will be January 19 according to the budget consultation document which will be handed out to the public.

On a Band D property the 4.99 per cent rise would see bills go up from £1,740.89 to £1,827.76

Cllr Jarvis said: “As everyone knows it’s a tough financial climate out there and many people and families remain badly affected by the cost of living crisis. Like every household, and family, the council has also had to manage very high increases in many of its costs, such as materials and fuel.

“We have been working hard to balance the council’s budget in unprecedented financial times so that we can continue to support our residents and deliver our services. We also know that to be ready for the future we must continue to invest in transformation and new ways of working. We can’t do this alone and we recognise that by working together with our partners and communities we can make a difference, safeguarding essential services and driving forward positive change at a much quicker pace.

“Overall, considering the national picture, our budget is in reasonable shape but there are still many challenges and pressures. We are unlikely to receive the funding we really need from government.

"At the time of launching our consultation, we still have a £5m gap, but this is manageable and we are working hard to reduce this so that by February 2024 we can agree a balanced budget, which is a legal requirement. We must also continue to transform services so we can realise savings as we move ahead and deliver on the benefits that can be achieved as a result of us being a unitary council.

“Our budget choices affect residents, the amount they pay and the services that they receive. That is why I am encouraging everyone, residents and partners alike, to have their say on this year’s budget consultation; so that we can shape our future together.”

Councillors agreed on the total net expenditure budget for 2023/24 to decrease by five million pounds to £263.478 million, due to the removal of the Transformation Fund. The net forecast outturn for 2023/24 is £264.339 million, which means that the council is now in a forecast overspend position of £861,000.

Some of the key factors that the council has to consider outlined in the report are the level of funding anticipated from the government, council tax, and business rates.

The report outlines a challenging economic forecast stating that inflation will not return to its two per cent target until the first half of 2025 and that the Bank of England interest rate of 5.25 per cent last August was the highest in 15 years.

It is also said that no specific announcement on additional revenue funding for local government was given in the Autumn Statement. “The planned reform to local government funding, already much delayed, has been put in abeyance,” the report states.

“The financial resilience of local authorities across England is under significant pressure and this challenge is no different in Westmorland and Furness.” C

llr Jarvis told members: “This is our first full-budget strengthening process as a sovereign council.

“This council remains in a relatively robust financial position. However, we do face significant pressures from inflation.”

He admitted that the budget has ‘gaps that still need to be filled.’ “We are conscious of the impact this has on residents. Council tax is a regressive tax that hits the poorest residents hardest,” he said.

Feedback from the public consultation will be considered by Cabinet and then go to Full Council on February 22 2024 with recommendations alongside the Budget and Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP).