4% council tax increase could be on the cards for Milton Keynes Council, scrutiny committee hears

MK Council
MK Council

An inflation-busting four per cent council tax increase could be on the cards in Milton Keynes despite a better-than-expected booster from the Government.

Milton Keynes Council’s finance officers are warning that despite this year’s budget looking a whopping £7million better off after the Government’s Spending Round announcements, the longer term future for the civic coffers remains mightily uncertain.

Steve Richardson, MK Council’s director of finance and resources told Tuesday’s Budget and Resources Scrutiny Committee that the Government has only provided some of the details for one financial year, instead of the normal three or four.

“The figures that we provided to cabinet on September 3 were out of date the next day,” said Mr Richardson. “We are having to take a view with limited information. For beyond 2019-20 we have no settlement and we are to an extent swimming in the dark.

“It’s pushing back the bad news for another 12 months.”

This year the Government will allow councils to charge up to two per cent more for the general budget, and another two per cent for adult social services, the committee heard.

Mr Richardson confirmed that the overall increase in council tax bills next April could be a total of four per cent, before a local referendum has to be held.

Last year’s MK Council increase was 2.99 per cent and that made an average Band D amount of the borough council’s proportion of the tax around £1,380, which would put the average possible increase from next April just over £1 a week.

To that would be added precepts from the police, the fire service and parish councils.

Mr Richardson said despite the good news for 2019-20 there would be no let up in the council’s drive for £5 million in budget savings. “The numbers are not fixed yet for future years, so we are treating this year as a one-off.

“We can’t put £7 million extra into our base budget this year, only to have to take it out next year. Despite having a balanced budget this year we should be looking to deliver value for money in the best possible way. This year’s announcement doesn’t change anything.”

The Government is expected to put more details into the announcements next month and make its final funding decisions in December.

Mr Richardson said much could still happen between now and the budget being set in the new year, and there were also risks from Brexit, rising costs of welfare, and burgeoning levels of homelessness.

Cllr Peter Geary (Cons, Olney) welcomed the balanced budget and a “better looking” four year forecast.

And chairman, Cllr Robin Bradburn (Lib Dem, Bradwell), although he welcomed this year’s financial position, added: “the unknowns have been pushed down the road.”