COUNCIL tax bills may still be in the process of landing on doormats but Barnsley Council has already calculated the rise householders are likely face next year – and its good news compared to this year’s inflation-busting 4.5 per cent increase.
At this stage, the council’s financial team anticipate an increase of 3.5 per cent when bills for the 2019/20 financial year are issued and although that is likely to still outstrip inflation, which is currently around three per cent with the Government aiming to see it reduced, it would still mean a real world increase down on the current rise.
This year’s increase is so high because on top of the Government’s cap of a three per cent rise, they have allowed councils to take another 1.5 per cent to be used specifically for adult social care, an area of spending where costs are spiralling as a result of an ageing population.
However, for the figures to stack up it will mean council staff collecting as much outstanding council tax from residents and rates from businesses as they have in the past and Neil Copley, the council’s service director for finance, has told councillors: “We have significant increases in council tax and less so for business rates.
“It is mainly council tax. It assumes we will collect what we always have collected,” he said.
The council’s track record on collecting council tax is strong, but the authority has also changed the way it collects its debts.
“We work with people to work through these issues,” he said.
“We have seen an increase in the collection rates in the last couple of years.
“People in Barnsley are very good at paying bills, it is a cultural thing. We benchmark really well in terms of collection rates.”
Barnsley also has a relatively stable population, so the council has fewer problems than some in chasing ‘gone aways’, people who have left the area without settling their council tax debts.
Although next year’s financial outlook appears to be quite stable, council number crunchers have already started work to try to guard against a double-whammy of uncertainty which will be caused by the effects of Brexit, expected to be felt from 2020 and the impact of devolution.
Devolution is expected to change the way Government money is allocated to the region and how decisions are made on the way it will be spent, a situation which would cause uncertainty in any circumstances but the situation is complicated further because there are two options available.
One would see a Sheffield City Region mayor with responsibility for a wide range of services covering Barnsley and South Yorkshire’s other three local authorities, though Barnsley Council would prefer to be part of a wider ‘One Yorkshire’ arrangement involving the whole region.
Mr Copley said: “I am quite concerned about the risk post 2020 on the back of things like Brexit.
“We cannot say what the impact on regional finances will be, it is a big unknown. With devolution, some opportunities will disappear but others will arise. We have to work through the detail,” he said.