THE average council tax bill for Sedgemoor residents will rise by £5 in the year from April - a 3.02 per cent increase.

At a full council meeting on Monday (February 22) Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) set a 'balanced budget' with no cuts to public services for the coming financial year.

In the last year, SDC has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic with an estimated £4m financial impact in the current year on the council’s finances.

"The emphasis over the past year has been on supporting residents and businesses throughout the Coronavirus crisis while delivering frontline services and taking opportunities to kick-start economic recovery," said a district council spokesperson.

"Additionally, there is a firm commitment to press ahead with ambitious plans to invest £1m of growth into the local economy as well as spending in priority services – all set in the context of a future stable five year financial position."

Some of the measures announced in the budget were:

  • An additional £180,000 grant to Citizens Advice, to help them continue their vital work in supporting our residents.
  • £250,000 for the approved the Climate Emergency Strategy and its Action Plan, setting a pathway for this Council to meet its declared target of becoming Carbon Neutral by 2030

"It is an ambitious plan and will also play a crucial role to support our pathway to recovery from this pandemic and will help build some additional resources and staff will bring forward a fully costed resource structure for Council’s approval, which will ensure the successful of delivery of plan and process for Sedgemoor residents," an SDC spokesperson said.

"A number of SDC projects are being developed such as electric bike fleet, extra pool car, extra charging points, Tree Officer, water refill units and public EV charging."

  • Further support for the council's 'extremely successful' graduate and apprenticeship schemes of £400,000. Over the past five years, SDC has helped 36 apprentices and five graduates to start their careers. This money will help a further 12 apprentices.
  • Additional £84,000 investment in IT infrastructure to help home working for staff.
  • £30,000 a year towards Spark – the infrastructure organisation for the Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise sector. 
  • £80,000 for the communities of Wlstock and Stockmoor, which will be a one off fund, linked to the defining of priorities working with ward members, town council and community organisations
  • £15,000 for Cheddar Active Travel which will look for long-term solutions to the anti-social issues in Cheddar Gorge which is essential to recovery and building back better.
  • A top-up one-off grant, in addition to the Town Fund monies, of up to £15,000 for an Eastover Hospital/Infirmary feasibility Study and £11,000 specifically Penel Orlieu – Classic Buildings Feasibility Study. Both the projects are within the Town Fund bid, currently with government.
  • A specialist Economic Development officer to help business recovery across the district.
  • An additional funding for resorts and beach safety, with RNLI lifeguards on all Sedgemoor’s beaches – full details are yet to be agreed.

Councillor Duncan McGinty, leader of Sedgemoor District Council said “This has been an extremely difficult year with the impact of the Covid Pandemic and its financial implications, not just on this Council, but on the wider economy.

"I would just like to pay tribute to the staff and members, who not only have risen to the Covid occasion and provided help, support, advice and sometimes a shoulder to cry on, but have continued to do the day-to-day work that keeps the Council delivering for its residents and businesses."

The figures presented at the meeting include the estimated cost of Covid and these have been funded by government grants and use of specific reserves.

The Council Tax increase will see an average Band D property pay £172.32 this year for District Council services.

This includes £1.80 that is raised on behalf of the Somerset Rivers Authority each year. It goes directly to the Somerset Rivers Authority and enables it to implement and fund the 20-year flood action plan for the county.

An additional £40.85 will go to the Internal Drainage Boards to help with their work.

This leaves the actual amount that SDC retain for spending on its services at £131.47 per Band D property.

The district council said it is still in the top 25 per cent of councils for the lowest band D tax and the lowest in Somerset if drainage board levies are excluded.

A countywide 2,000-strong, survey carried out in winter 2020 by Ipsos Mori, one of the world’s leading research companies, showed that 67 per cent residents are currently satisfied with public services provided by district councils. In 2019 65 per cent of Sedgemoor residents said that they were extremely satisfied with the council's services.

Liberal Democrat councillors at SDC put forward proposals for the 2021/22 budget and they were all accepted.

They are:

  • To start a Community Infrastructure fund for Stockmoor and Wilstock to bid against for community projects. This fund will be £80,000.
  • To contribute the saving of £42,000 made by the council from Councillors and officers travel expenses to the Climate Change funds.
  • To grant £15,000 to the Cheddar Active Travel consultation to address on-going Anti-Social Behaviour and the impact of Covid-19.
  • To grant Sedgemoor council staff an additional day’s annual leave in 2021-22 to thank them for their exemplary service in the pandemic.
  • To promote the option of postal voting for the forthcoming elections to the Police and Crime Commissioner and Somerset County Council.

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Bill Revans, said:“We have always supported recycling in the LibDems. So I guess we are pleased to see the administration recycling of our idea

“We are of course delighted that all five of our budget proposals have been accepted into the council’s budget this year.”

Labour councillors also put forward their own budget and pushed the Conservative-led Sedgemoor District Council to make changes including:

  • More spending on Climate emergency projects including staff, regeneration work on Classic Buildings and the old Salmon Parade Hospital
  • A programme of post-recovery festivals

Labour leader Cllr Brian Smedley, said “We were calling for almost half a million more from their substantial reserve to spend now on urgent things that had gone AWOL from previous budgets. Areas of neglect like Penel Orlieu, Salmon Parade and the Stockmoor estate. Suddenly the penny dropped and was made available.

"This is now the second year running we have backed the Sedgemoor budget and we are please to see almost 50% of what we asked for being delivered.”