As advised in our article last weekend, this will be considered by DBC at their meeting on Monday 23 February.  The papers relating to this meeting stretch to 280 pages.  Whilst it would have been helpful if DBC had produced some sort of Executive Summary (I suppose they may still do so after the meeting when the Budget has been approved), at least this means that our elected representatives will have read the full document, unless they choose to play ‘Follow The Leader’.

Will I be attending this meeting?  Having sat through the ‘pantomime’ of last year’s Budget meeting, the answer is an emphatic no.  However, I hope that the senior (in service years and positions) Councillors who acted in a very disappointing fashion last year will be better behaved on Monday.

Below, I have tried to summarise some of the points included in the documents.  If I’ve omitted any key information, no doubt I will be corrected.

Page 5

An increase of 1.5% be applied to local salary levels and other relevant allowances with effect from 1 April 2015.

No increase be applied to Members’ and Mayoral allowances for 2015/16.

An average rent increase of 2.2% for Housing Revenue Account dwellings.

Pages 7-10 

Details of the precepts paid to the parished areas of the Borough, Kent County Council, Kent Police and Crime Commissioner and Kent Fire and Rescue.

Page 11

Details of the Council Tax to be paid for 2015/16 for both parished and unparished areas including the relevant Council Tax Bands.

Page 15

Paragraph 5.2.4 – ‘It is often wrongly assumed that the Council retains the business rates. It collects the business rates on behalf of the Treasury and has done so for many years‘.  Further details are provided.

Paragraph 5.2.7 – ‘This report proposes a balanced budget and no increase in the council tax for 2015/16. Band D council tax for Dartford will remain at £162.90 for the sixth consecutive year.’

Page 16

Paragraph 5.4 – ‘The Housing Revenue Account (HRA) is in a healthy position with an estimated balance at 31 March 2015 of approximately £8.8m.’

Paragraph 5.6.1 – Staffing Budgets ‘The Council has significantly reduced staffing in recent years, from 433 full time equivalents in 2003/4 to the 2015/16 budgeted establishment of 271.’

Page 18

Paragraph 7.2.7 – ‘Details of Community Grants are shown in Appendix B (iii). It is proposed to maintain recurring grants at current levels.  The General Fund budget includes a sum of £22,120 for community grants.  The Identified Initiative Reserve has in the past also funded community grants and this will continue in 2015/16.’

Page 20

Paragraph 7.5.1 – ‘The percentage of council tax collected for 2014/15 was 84.7% at the end of December and it is estimated that it will be 97.0% by the year end.  The Council continues to collect arrears for previous years.

Page 27

Orchard Theatre  – ‘An unbudgeted profit share contribution of £27,800 has been received.  This is an increase on last year’s profit share contribution of £10,500.’

Page 28-29

Special Events – ‘The net overspend of £44,000 is attributable to reduced income from the Dartford Festival and increases in costs related to security, safety and other costs arising from growth in attendance as the reputation of the festival grows.  The Council values the festival’s reputation as one of the finest free festivals in the region.  Neighbouring Bexley cancelled the popular Danson Festival in 2014, perhaps reflecting the complex demands now placed on organisers, but Dartford Council remains committed to the future of the event.   Income was down by £17,000 mainly due to reduced sponsorship, catering and commercial stall income.  There were additional infrastructure costs of some £15,000 for improved staging and access arrangements and the construction of a raised platform with wheelchair access following representations from disability groups after the 2013 event.

Page 29

Parks and Open Spaces – ‘The net underspend of £41,000 follows from anticipated savings on utilities, the new security contract, playgrounds maintenance and other contracted/ad hoc work and increased income.

Temporary Accommodation – ‘Net overspend of £95,000 Expenditure on Temporary Accommodation (Homelessness) has remained high throughout the year.  In the period April to January, 172 households have been placed in nightly-paid accommodation, compared with 139 at the same point last year.  As at 5 February 2015, 43 households were in nightly-paid accommodation compared to 35 at the same point last year.  In terms of homeless applications, 65% more cases (354) have so far been processed this financial year compared to the whole of 2013/2014 (214) and with actual homeless acceptances are up from 74 last year to 146 to date in the current financial year.  An overspend of £95,000 is be expected due to the increased volume of legitimate homeless applications.’

Page 31

Waste and Parks Management – ‘Following revised contract arrangements, the cost for the current volume of service for refuse collection and environmental cleansing will be reduced by £115,000.  Growth in volume due to developments will reduce this by £30,000.  As a result of new arrangements the budget for waste transfer will also reduce by £120,000.  Income budgets from cemeteries and sale of refuse bins have been adjusted to reflect growth producing a saving of £44,000.’

Town Centre – ‘The relocation of the market to the town centre has proved to be popular with shoppers and traders (some local shops are reporting increased takings of up to 40% on Market Thursdays).  Lease charges of £99,000 are no longer payable as the lease on its former site has ended.  The Council owns few properties in the town centre but nevertheless continues to invest heavily in the marketing and improvement of the retail core.  Its work with the Town Team has produced considerable benefits and the Council together with sponsors provides training for shop staff, mystery shopping, the Dartford Friendly programme as well as rate reductions for qualifying small retail businesses.  The market bursaries have proved successful with three young retailers transferring to “bricks and mortar” properties from the market stalls provided by the Council.  The Council also arranges for arts, cultural and special events to take place, which successfully drive footfall in the town.  As the recession abates the support of the Council is appreciated by Town Team members.  Local retailers are reporting considerable signs of economic growth after a difficult period for high streets across Britain.  The budget includes provision for the introduction of Wi-Fi and costs associated with the marketing of the former co-op site and station mound.’

Page 32

Planning – ‘After taking into account the effect of the new Unitary Development Corporation, it is expected that Planning Services will experience a reduction in application fees of £100,000.

Page 166 

Investment Policy and Strategy – ‘The Council holds significant invested funds, representing income received in advance of expenditure, plus balances and reserves.  In the current financial year to 31st January 2015, the Council’s investment balances have ranged between £62m and £93m.’

About the author

Andy Clark is retired after a long career at Lloyds Register and subsequently the Civil Service. He has lived in Dartford for his entire life.

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