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countyhallThe Isle of Wight Council last night (Wednesday) agreed to focus its resources in four key priority areas for the year ahead, at its annual council tax and budget-setting meeting.

The meeting of the Full Council at County Hall, Newport also agreed to increase the Isle of Wight Council element of council tax for 2015/2016 by 1.99% (excluding town and parish council and Hampshire Constabulary precepts). This will raise an additional £555,000 for council services after the loss of the government’s council tax freeze grant.

It means the Isle of Wight Council element of council tax for a typical band D property will increase by £26 to £1,341.64 a year. Council tax contributes 20.6% of the council’s overall funding.

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At the meeting at County Hall, council leader Councillor Jonathan Bacon reiterated the council’s priority areas for its resources:

– Supporting growth in the economy and tourism, making the Island a better place and keeping it safe.
– Keeping children safe and improving their education.
– Protecting the most vulnerable with health and social care, investing in support, prevention and continuing care.
– Ensuring the most effective use of resources in achieving the Island’s priorities.

Cllr Bacon said:

“We are determined that this budget focuses investment in those services which are most essential for Island residents – and this is reflected in these priority areas.

“The council has an overall resource allocation of £123.6 million in 2015/2016, and from this we intend to allocate £26.8 million to keeping children safe and improving their education, and £50.9 million to protecting our most vulnerable residents. Additionally, we plan to spend £31.4 million on growing our economy and tourism and making the Island a safer place, and £16.4 million on ensuring the most effective use of our resources.

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“As well as this revenue spending there will be capital investment in a broad range of projects in support of the priority areas – including projects which we hope will help to generate growth and income.

“This budget reflects our total commitment and determination to deliver the best possible services we can for Island residents set against an extremely challenging financial climate. There have been major year-on-year reductions in government funding and rising costs in many areas.

“As part of the long and detailed process of framing this budget, we have had to consider very carefully how we have allocated our limited resources. This has included taking into consideration the feedback from our budget consultation process and other specific consultations carried out in recent months.”

Full details of the budget and council tax proposals, which were adopted by Full Council, can be found

Measures agreed in the council’s budget and plans, include:

[alert-note]- Continue to work with the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership and local businesses and business organisations to help grow the economy.

– Consider new community asset transfer schemes to utilise a number of council properties.

– Consider supporting new investments in the development of renewable energy technologies, particularly the development of an Isle of Wight energy company.

– Complete the rural broadband project (scheduled for October this year) to bring fast fibre broadband to 20,000 homes and businesses in mainly rural parts of the Island.

– Help to launch the Island Infrastructure Forum to ensure the Island has a secure, affordable and accessible transport infrastructure.

– Continue to work with Hampshire County Council to ensure standards in relation to education and the safety of Island children continue to improve.

– Work with health partners to develop a model of integrated health and social care for the Island – promoting longer, healthier and more independent lives for residents. This will include a strategic partnership with the Island’s NHS Trust.

– Maintain free travel on the Island’s bus services for Island residents with a disabled concessionary travel card – including a new Islander concession card giving free travel for Island residents with a severe and enduring mental health problem.[/alert-note]

From its overall resource allocation of £123.6 million, the council is required to fund increased costs of £7.3 million and, together, with significant grant reductions, find £14.5 million of savings in 2015/2016 to balance the budget (a further £8.5 million in 2016/2017). Initial measures for savings and to increase income, include the following:

[alert-note]- Introducing a new waste and recycling contract for the Island (from November 2015).

– Developing a strategic partnership between the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service and its Hampshire counterpart. A formal agreement was signed on 20 February.

– Developing a new operating model for the council, with a focus on commissioning more services. Discussions have already taken place with other councils successfully operating such a model.

– Reductions in senior management and a review of admin and other management.

– Maximising the council’s income streams and reviewing new options for income generation.

– Reintroducing passenger charges for a return journey (initially 40p) on Cowes floating bridge (under-18s and concessionary bus pass holders exempt).

– Introducing a community toilet scheme with local businesses and other organisations, subject to consultation.[/alert-note]

The council has also agreed to use £2 million from its reserves and balances towards the savings in 2015/2016, and has set aside a further £2.07 million from reserves to cover potential variations in the identified savings, and to help towards the future move of services to a commissioning model.

The council has also been required to issue a formal consultation notice in relation to potential job losses among its staff, as part of the savings proposals. The proposals over the next few years predict the council moving to a far more streamlined staffing structure.

Councillor Bacon added:

“Island residents should be under no illusion that this is probably the most challenging budget this council has ever had to deal with. However, within these constraints we remain dedicated to delivering the best we can for the Island within the resources available.”

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