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Torbay Council approve budget plans

Monday, February 17th, 2020 1:23pm

By Ed Oldfield, Local Democracy Reporting Service

It will spend £116 million and raise council tax by 3.99%

The Conservatives claimed changes to public toilets and cuts to beach services, seafront lights, parks, gardens and flower beds, along with an increase in car parking charges, could harm tourism.

Cabinet members accused the Conservatives of talking down Torbay, which the Opposition denied. 

Leader Steve Darling, a Liberal Democrat, said the council had to find £10.5million of savings and extra income to balance the books.

The leadership says it has to focus on statutory services such as adult and children’s social care and is working with the community to find other ways of delivering some services.

The Conservatives also objected to plans to change household rubbish collections from fortnightly to three-weekly, which they said were unpopular with residents.

They claimed the change could lead to an increase in fly-tipping and was linked to council plans for a new enforcement team with the powers to fine people for over-filled bins and leaving out extra side-waste.

But the leadership denied the plans were linked and accused the Conservatives of scaremongering. Cabinet members said the collection change would be trialled alongside an education programme and was designed to save money, increase recycling rates and tackle climate change.

The weekly food waste and recycling collections will carry on and it is likely town centres will keep fortnightly collections for ‘residual waste’ – the rubbish that goes in the big grey bins after recycling and food has been separated out.

The Conservatives objected to the replacement of free-to-use public toilets at Preston and Goodrington South beaches with new pay-to-use facilities under an ongoing contract with service provider Healthmatic.

They claimed the lower number of new cubicles would be unable to cope with demand at peak periods.

Cabinet members responded that the size of new units was based on predicted use and the investment of £600,000 in public toilets next year in Torbay was believed to be the biggest in the South of England, with new blocks having won awards.

Each objection from the Conservatives was discussed and voted down by 18 to 16 at a meeting of the full council on Thursday night. The meeting also approved a capital spending plan for next year of £143million, including £65million for property investment to raise income.

The leadership said the council was facing serious challenges due to millions of pounds of government cuts. But it had made children’s services its top priority, with £9million of extra spending including investment for improvements.

Council leader Steve Darling said in a statement after meeting: “Our biggest challenge as a Unitary Authority is that when we have £1 to spend the majority has to be spent on statutory services like children’s and adult social care, meaning the cuts fall mostly on things that we don’t have to provide by law such as parks and gardens, public buildings, toilets, beach services, sports facilities.

 “As a consequence of current cuts in central government funding the council needs to find £10.5million of savings to balance next year’s budget – so difficult decisions have to be made.

 “Our top priority is to turn around children’s services and we are investing £2.8million to invest to save in this service. 

“Our budget also seeks to enable communities to help us tackle many of the services that the government do not fund, such as flower beds and keeping our beaches clean. 

 “We have also invested in a climate change officer and a housing officer to drive the pace of more affordable housing in Torbay. 

“We are amongst the worst in Devon at recycling and so as part of our drive to improve recycling in the bay we plan to trial three-weekly residual waste collections in a part of the Bay.” 

Government funding for Torbay Council has dropped from £42million in 2013 to £6.5million next year, while the cost of children’s services has risen from £25million to £47million.

The 3.99 per cent rise in the council’s share of the local tax bill for the next financial year from April includes 2 per cent to go on adult social care.

The final council tax will be worked out from adding Torbay’s share to bills from the police and fire service, along with a contribution to Brixham Town Council for Brixham residents, and will be set at a meeting on Thursday, February 27.

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