Budget agreed for new council
7 March 2023
The Shadow Authority for Westmorland and Furness Council has today agreed the new council’s budget for 2023/24, including changes to council tax and spending plans for the next five years.
The decision follows recommendations agreed by the council’s Cabinet at their meeting on 24 February.
Councillor Andrew Jarvis, Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “I am delighted that today we have agreed the first budget for the new Westmorland and Furness Council.
“The budget provides the financial underpinning to support delivery of our ambitious Council Plan in a way that it is pragmatic and prudent. This represents another huge milestone in us becoming the sovereign council and delivering on our vision of making Westmorland and Furness a better place to live, work and thrive.
“We face historically high inflation, increased demand for services and insufficient government funding. Despite these challenges, this budget allows us to invest up front in transforming services and delivering on the benefits promised by local government reorganisation of improved efficiency and effectiveness. This is no small achievement given that it has been developed while we are still a Shadow Authority with only three paid employees.”
At the meeting the Shadow Authority voted to:
- To implement a 4.99% rise in council tax from 1 April. This is made up of a 2.99% basic increase plus another 2% specifically to help fund adult social care, known as the Adult Social Care Precept.
- To harmonise council tax levels across the Westmorland and Furness area from 1 April.
- To introduce a 100% council tax premium on second homes from 2024/25.
Commenting on these decisions, Councillor Jarvis continued: “I understand, given cost of living pressures, that people may be concerned by the increase in council tax that has been agreed.
“However, to not increase council tax would mean making significant and immediate changes to services that people rely on, changes we have been unable to plan for as a Shadow Authority. We don’t think that’s right.
“We know that some people that may find the additional cost difficult. That’s why we have ensured that we have a generous council tax reduction scheme available to help, including automatically treating an application for Universal Credit as an application for council tax reduction.”
The decision to double council tax charged for second homes from 2024/25 was taken alongside other decisions intended to help the council tackle the affordable housing crisis in the area. These include a 200% premium for properties kept empty for more than five years, and even higher charges from April 2024 for properties kept empty for more than 10 years.
Councillor Jarvis said: “Housing is a huge local issue and one that we are prioritising. We want housing to be available for local people and we don’t want homes wasted, lying empty for years. The additional income we generate from these decisions will help fund work to tackle the housing challenges that we face in our area.”
The Shadow Authority also agreed a planned £253 million of capital spending over the next five years on projects around the area, with the majority being projects carried forward form the legacy councils.
Commenting on the Capital Programme, Councillor Jarvis said: “We are an ambitious council, and this is an ambitious investment programme that spans our area.
“It includes very significant Town Deal investment in Barrow, Town Hall redevelopment in Penrith, renovation of the Lido and Prom in Grange, Phase 1 of the Ulverston Leisure Centre, flood defence and town centre improvements in Kendal, as well as work across our council area to enhance our facilities and support our services.
“This Capital Programme will impact right across our diverse area from Piel Island to Appleby, Penrith and beyond. And this is just the start, as this council will continue to work for the benefit of all our communities and residents, wherever they live within Westmorland and Furness.’’
Full details of the council tax plans, medium-term financial plan, and consultation feedback report can be found on the agenda report of today's meeting.
For more information about the council tax reduction scheme, people should contact their current district council. There will also be information about the council tax reduction scheme included with council tax bills when they are delivered to households in March.
Westmorland and Furness Council is acting in ‘shadow’ form as its councillors engage in the planning and preparation for Vesting Day on 1 April 2023.
1 April 2023 is the point where Westmorland and Furness Council and its councillors will officially take over responsibility for all services across the Barrow, Eden and South Lakeland areas and the existing Barrow Borough, Eden District and South Lakeland District councils, along with Cumbria County Council, will be dissolved.
Until April 2023 all current services will continue to be delivered by the existing councils, overseen by the councillors on those councils.