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No increase in bill for council services in Poole

Councillors in Poole have agreed the council's budget for 2014/15, including no increase in residents' bills for local council services for a fourth consecutive year.

The decision made at a meeting of Full Council last night means that the council's element of the Council Tax bill will remain frozen at £1209.60 for a typical Band D property. Decisions by the Police and the Fire Authority to increase their elements of the Council Tax bill mean the total charge for a Band D property will be £1,463.31.

Council Tax bills in Poole remain the lowest in Dorset for the 14th consecutive year – despite further reductions in government funding, increasing demand for services and a drop in income the council receives from areas such as planning fees and car parking charges.

In setting its budget for 2014/15, the council will make investments in key areas such as children's services and adult social care, as well as committing money to fund new school places and affordable housing schemes.

Councillors also agreed a one-off £500,000 investment in a package of measures, including:

* £150,000 additional investment in pothole repairs
* £150,000 to offer apprenticeships to young people
* £50,000 to support new business start-ups
* £40,000 to encourage more people to work in the care sector
* £20,000 to help young people play an active role in their community

Over recent years, the council has dealt with £43.5 million of cuts and budget pressures through careful management of its finances. However, the council estimates it must save a further £34.5 million by 2018, the equivalent of a quarter of its budget for local services last year. The council has already identified £21 million of additional savings over this period but still faces a funding gap of £13.5 million.   

In order to balance it budget over the next four years, the council will:
* Continue to reduce costs by redesigning delivery of local services
* Invest in preventative schemes that reduce demand for council services
* Further improve its processes for purchasing goods and services
* Work with other councils and public sector bodies to deliver joined-up services
* Support the local community to assume more responsibility for services that matter to them
* Continue to reduce red tape and bureaucracy in council procedures

Cllr Elaine Atkinson, Leader of the Council and the Conservative Group, Borough of Poole, said: "I am pleased the council has been able to agree a balanced budget that not only reduces the impact on frontline services, but again delivers no increase in Council Tax for residents at a time when the cost of other demands on the household purse continues to rise. This goes to show that Poole has an efficient and well-managed council, and that members from across our political groups can work together for the benefit of the town.

"The outlook for the council's finances remains very challenging. Having absorbed more than £40 million of cuts and pressures on our budget over the past five years, the council must find a similar amount over the next four years. We have already made some progress to address this, but there is still a significant gap in our finances to bridge over the coming months and years."

Cllr Mike Brooke, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, said: "Despite the challenging financial circumstances we face, I am pleased that the council, through the work of the cross party star chamber, is able to come forward with a balanced budget and also find additional funds to invest in repairing potholes and schemes to help our young people into employment."

Cllr Mark Howell, Leader of the Poole People Group, said: "It is important that the council continues to work on its efficiency agenda so it is good to see that money will be set aside as part of this budget to bring in additional skills from the commercial sector."

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