Extra business rates income adds up as Fenland Council scraps proposed council tax increase


- Credit: Sarah Allison

Fenland has frozen its share of next year’s council tax bill after a proposed increase was scrapped – thanks to an estimated £47,000 of extra business rates.

Householders were facing a 1.9 per cent increase after Fenland District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee supported a rise instead of taking a government freeze grant.

However, since that meeting the council has changed its predictions on business rate income for 2015/16. It expects to receive an extra £297,000 – £47,000 more than estimated in the draft budget, in December.

That extra £47,000 will cover the majority of the £50,800 shortfall the council faced by freezing council tax and accepting the government freeze grant.

Deputy council leader Chris Seaton revealed the freeze when he delivered the 2015/16 budget at last night’s meeting of the council.

Cllr Seaton said: “Although we have tough austerity measures on us as a council, we do also need to consider the financial challenges facing our residents and, with additional business rates, it seems appropriate to minimise these challenges.

“We will protect residents from an increase and will receive the council tax freeze grant from central government.

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“The budget doesn’t come without risk, with the volatility of business rates income. Savings may be required during the year – this includes any pressures from the new government.

“But we have a robust and balanced budget and we are making good strides in finding the savings needed in the coming years.”

Cllr Seaton said the council has also already identified where it can save £1.005million next year, as required by a 15.8 per cent reduction in its government grant.

The council initially wanted to increase council tax bills by 1.9 per cent – about £5 a year – than take up the government’s council tax freeze grant of £77,000.

The rise would have given Fenland income of £6,849,663, but the freeze and government grant would have raised £6,798,854 – a difference of £50,809.

Councillor Steve Tierney questioned the proposed rise at the overview and scrutiny committee meeting, last month. He asked if the council should take the government grant and find the savings as “people all over Fenland are struggling”.

At last night’s meeting, he said: “I would like to say thank you, as it is great that through clever financial management that we have been able to deliver a freeze.”

Opposition leader Councillor Virginia Bucknor said the proposed freeze was the result of “phenomenal work that has been done by the finance team”.

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