West Devon Borough Council and South Hams District Council are holding a consultation on their proposal to form one new council.
The proposal is said to save up to £0.5m a year, reduce the number of councillors and require council tax for both areas to be brought to the same level.
Local authorities have had growing budget pressures and decreasing grants from central government in recent years, and this is looking significantly worse for the future – some government grants will be stopping completely from 2018.
The current forecast for the financial year 2020/21 is a £1.1m budget gap for West Devon and a £0.8m budget gap for South Hams. The councils are exploring a number of other options for closing the gap, but they believe forming one new council is the only option that will definitely contribute to closing the budget gaps.
It is claimed that the savings will not be through cuts to services, but through the new council costing less to operate – the new council will need fewer council and committee meetings, there will be no need for each council to make separate decisions, and there will be one budget and one set of financial systems. The cost of forming a single council is estimated to be £325,000 which includes project management, consultation on the proposal, remodelling of the council finances and creating a new website and identity for the new council.
Council Tax in the South Hams is currently £63 less a year than West Devon (for those living in Band D housing), and this difference would be addressed through a gradual increase over a number of years. This additional income would contribute to closing the funding gap.
There are other cost-saving considerations being discussed, such as outsourcing some front-line services such as waste and recycling (these are already outsourced in West Devon but the contract is coming to an end in 2019) or creating a company owned by the two councils to deliver some of these services. Another income-generating project under discussion is taking out a multi-million pound loan to invest in a programme of buying and renting out commercial properties – West Devon councillors recently voted to pursue this option, whilst South Hams has decided to defer until the outcome of this One Council consultation is known.
This is just a brief overview of the main points – see the One Council website for detailed information about the above, and further aspects of the proposal.
The website also has a survey where you can put forward your thoughts and comments on this proposal. We strongly encourage you to do so. Click here to have your say.
The consultation runs until early October, and is sure to be one of the most-discussed topics at forthcoming TDCC evening meetings. Join us to take part – the next meeting is 5.30pm, Monday 04 September. We regularly have local councillors present, and invite specific representatives to attend to update us on developments.