Fri, 22 Dec 2017
CASH-STRAPPED West Berkshire Council has been given a timely financial boost following the announcement that the area will be included in a Government pilot scheme.
The scheme, announced on Tuesday by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid, will see all six councils in Berkshire allowed to keep 100 per cent of their business rates in 2018/19.
As a result, the district is expected to benefit to the tune of £2m next year, as part of the Business Rates Retention pilot.
The pilot will now allow more investment in council services, which have been affected by a series of brutal funding cuts over the last two years, according to Newbury MP Richard Benyon.
“This is fantastic news for West Berkshire,” he said.
“It’s a great announcement at Christmas time, just as the council were struggling to put together a budget to cover all areas of service provision and this will make it considerably easier.”
Mr Benyon added: “In order to balance the budget, they were looking at making cost savings here and there – £2m really does represent a significant increase.
“It’s a challenge to West Berkshire, and one that councillors will be up for, to prove we are a good place for business; that West Berkshire is somewhere where people can grow business and everybody will benefit from that as a result.”
Berkshire as a whole is expected to gain up to £36m from the pilot next year, with most of the funding being distributed to the Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership for investment in improving infrastructure across the county.
The pilot will test aspects of a new future business rates retention programme due to be implemented in 2020/21, which will allow local councils across the country to retain more of their own business rates.
West Berkshire Council has seen its government grant funding reduced significantly over recent years from £33.7m to just £100,000 next year.
Following the announcement, however, leader of West Berkshire Council, Graham Jones (Con, Lambourn Valley) said it was too early to say how the money would be distributed and that the council would have to act with caution.
Mr Jones said: “This is a one-year pilot.
“We anticipate it will go beyond that first year, but we can’t start spending money if we can’t sustain it in year two – but it will take some of the pressure off the council and hopefully we can invest this in our services.”
Mr Jones said that, due to the government funding reduction, West Berkshire was one of the worst-supported local authorities in the country, making the cash boost even more welcome.
Asked if West Berkshire residents could expect to benefit from the funding in 2018, he said: “I think they will.
“West Berkshire’s economic growth has been at the forefront of the country and now we can actually see some of that money.”