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South Kesteven council tax rise given green light

A 3.25 per cent rise in the district council’s portion of council tax has been agreed by councillors.

Members voted in favour of the budget for 2019/20 at a meeting of South Kesteven District Council on Friday.

SKDC budget meeting (7654867)
SKDC budget meeting (7654867)

The rise equates to £5 for a band D property, the highest rate before a local referendum would be required. It means the rate for an average band D property will rise from £153.62 to £158.62.

Council leader Matthew Lee said the rise will fund arts, the InvestSK economic regeneration company and allow the council to use and develop new technologies to improve and transform its services.

He told the meeting: “My foot is most definitely not coming off the pedal. If anything it going to be driving even harder in the coming years.”

He continued: “There are still too many sites with the potential to generate massive economic return that still lie dormant and undeveloped. There are too many areas of green space that are not being used for the benefit of the community.”

He also said there were “too many sites that need to be developed into much needed housing- particularly affordable housing”.

Earlier, cabinet member for finance Coun Adam Stokes said the council was in “sound financial shape” with high levels of reserves compared to others, which support the growth ambitions of the council.

SKDC would more than play its part in tackling the housing crisis, he said, and would stimulate economic growth and jobs by buying and developing strategic sites and buildings.

However, Coun Ashley Baxter has blasted the budget, calling investment plans “fantasyland”.

The Independent councillor was the only district councillor to vote against the council budget as Labour voted for it and several Independents abstained.

Coun Baxter told the meeting of full council that his opposition stemmed from last year, citing £680,000 of ‘savings’ that were not delivered.

Savings in parking, consultation, procurement also did not happen, he claimed.

Meanwhile, the council also found £1.6million for the public realm by the SKDC offices.

Coun Baxter said: “Last year’s budget was a masterclass in failing to plan properly for the year.”

He noted £10 million is budgeted for investment in leisure and property but he doubted it would be spent, adding: “I think it’s fantasyland.”

Coun Baxter noted street lighting improvements had “fallen off our work plans” and while he welcomed £5 million for council housing, the plans needed more detail.

He added: “A lot of figures are plucked out of the air.”

Labour group leader Phil Dilks called last year’s budget a “wishlist” and noted some £11 million of council reserves have been spent in the current financial year, making them half of a year ago.

Citing economic uncertainty, Coun Dilks wondered if the council had enough reserves and asked how much the council would make from its investments.

Grantham unaligned councillor Ian Selby said there were “a lot of good things” in the budget.

He added: “There are many councils up and down the country that would give their right arm for this.”

SKDC deputy leader Kelham Cooke replied the budget was ‘a living document’ and revisions would be made throughout the year.

Coun Nick Neilson, cabinet member for housing, added SKDC seeks to spend £31.5 million on buying land for development across the district to help provide council and affordable homes for those who need it.

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