Setting the council’s budget and investing in services for the future

January and February in the Council is budget setting time.

It’s never an easy task. Our services are mainly funded by Council Tax and business rates. We spend over £400million providing hundreds of different services, many of which everyone uses; road maintenance, household waste collection and recycling, maintaining parks and creating new walking and cycling routes in the countryside, running libraries and leisure centres.

We also provide very important services that only some people use such as child protection and adult social care. Approximately two-thirds of our budget (and therefore effectively a large part of your Council Tax) pays for these critical services which support some of our most vulnerable residents.

Demand for these services is increasing so next year we need to put more money into providing care for older people and adults with disabilities, providing additional support for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and children who need our protection.

Focussing on efficiency

As demand for our services increases, we need to look for ways to make your money go further. Next year we plan to reduce our costs by over £9million.

These include:

  • getting involved as early as possible with children, families or adults who are vulnerable (because of ill health, disability or risk of abuse or neglect). By doing this, we can help them to avoid needing more support in the long term, which provides much better outcomes and saves money
  • modernising care services for older people and adults with learning disabilities, so we provide care as close to home as possible, as well as services that will promote independence and reduce reliance on social care
  • improving access to our online services, automating our processes and streamlining how we work to reduce our operating costs whilst still providing traditional means of access to the Council for those without internet
  • building on home-based working that has been necessary and successful during the pandemic, so we spend less on offices, printing and travel costs.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough to meet the pressures we face which means Council Tax will need to increase.

Council Tax

Realising this is a difficult time for many people we are keeping the increase to the minimum possible and propose to increase general Council Tax by 0.95% and a 1% increase specifically for adult social care.

Investing in services for the future

Aside from the services that your Council Tax helps to fund, we also have ambitious plans to invest in new schools, roads, care homes and leisure centres. These are funded through borrowing and grants.

We’re proposing to invest £240million next year on a range of projects including:

Schools – maintaining school buildings, completing the build of the new Houstone School in Houghton Regis, refurbishment of Sandy Secondary School and expanding other schools to accommodate more pupils.

Roads – the new M1-A6 link road and new Arlesey relief road, a new transport interchange at Flitwick train station and changes to the Clophill roundabout to improve congestion.

Leisure – new leisure centres at Houghton Regis and Leighton Buzzard as well as improvements to leisure provision at Sandy and Rights of Way.

Health – building the new Integrated Health and Care Hub in Dunstable and new care homes in Leighton Buzzard and Flitwick.

Tell us what you think

Before a decision on the budget is made, we want to hear from residents and businesses. You can give your feedback online at www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/budget2022 or pick up a leaflet in your local library and respond before 31 January.

Managing from the ground

One of the favourite parts of my job is getting out and about and understanding more about our communities first-hand. I really enjoy meeting residents, looking at the impact the Council’s work has had and identifying opportunities where we can do more.

I recently visited Downside in the Manshead area of Dunstable with colleagues from the Council’s Housing Service, and Councillor Eugene Ghent, Executive Member for Assets and Housing. Downside is a stone’s throw away from Dunstable Downs, but it is also one of the parts of Central Bedfordshire where we have the greatest opportunity to improve people’s lives and the community where they live.

During our visit we came across a number of opportunities to enhance the area over the next twelve months. Firstly, we are going to refurbish the two play parks in Downside with new equipment. I enjoy spending time outside with my grandchildren, and I know how much of a difference it will make to the families there to have updated play areas for their children to enjoy. Additionally, over the next few months, we will be cutting back vegetation and removing weeds and moss in communal areas of our council-owned properties, as well as tackling outstanding property maintenance issues.

We are always keen to hear from residents about what else they might like to see, so please do contact your local councillors with your suggestions. You can also share your thoughts through our Growing Greater Neighbourhoods survey, which closes at the end of January.

These efforts build on the public safety work we are doing in partnership with Bedfordshire Police in this area. In September we hosted a Safer Streets event (pictured) to share crime prevention information with local people and we launched a wider programme of safety improvements. We’ve handed out smart water kits to residents so they can mark their belongings, and offered two-way radios to local businesses so they can contact the Council’s CCTV room quickly. Looking ahead, our Safer Neighbourhoods team will be installing CCTV cameras in the area, and we’ll be improving lighting to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Investing in areas like Downside is extremely important for me and is part of the Council’s wider efforts to prevent people from being left behind or slipping into need in Central Bedfordshire, something which has been exacerbated by COVID-19. Last week the Council’s Executive committed to creating a councillor taskforce to look at fairness and enhance the Council’s efforts to reduce deprivation, and I was delighted to see that the motion was unanimously supported.

I want people to have pride in where they live, and I will be returning to Downside to see how the improvements are coming along.

Small Business Saturday – Love Local

Local businesses across the country, including here in Central Bedfordshire, are looking forward to this Saturday (4 December).

Now in its ninth year, Small Business Saturday has become a calendar staple since its humble roots. It started as a grassroots campaign to encourage people to ‘shop local’ and support small businesses in their area.

The campaign has grown in popularity and in light of the ongoing pandemic, people appreciate the important contribution small businesses make to the national economy as well as being at the centre of our communities. Many local people depend on their local businesses and vice versa.

Last year the campaign achieved record-breaking success with an estimated £1.1 billion spent across the UK on the day.

The way people shop has changed massively over time, from individual greengrocers, butchers, and bakeries to the arrival of supermarkets where everything became available in one place. Convenience and speed are important for many shoppers now and whilst online shopping is now used by many, it is important to remember that local businesses can offer the same level of service, local produce and keen pricing.

2021 has proved to be another challenging year for the retail sector, making it vital for people to support small businesses in any way they can. Supporting businesses is a priority for the council and we have recently extended our Business Support Programme to offer more schemes for local businesses. Working with Cranfield University and SEMLEP we are running innovative programmes for businesses helping them to grow or recover.

As a customer, we each can help to maintain our independent businesses. I encourage you to buy local not just this Saturday but throughout the year.

There are many ways you can show your support for Small Business Saturday. Leaving a positive review or sharing a social media post can help boost their profile in your area.

Small Business Saturday has created an online tool to help you find a small business in your area.

Let’s all support our local businesses this Saturday and whenever we can!

Transport plans to benefit Central Bedfordshire

The first roads date back to the Old Stone Age. It was the Romans who took road building to a new level, building thousands of miles of roads in Britain. 2,000 years on, many signs of their roads like the A1 still exist today. Like us, they knew a thing or two about the importance of good transport networks.

In recent weeks, we secured government funding for two important transport schemes.

The first is for a new M1 to A6 link road. This will reduce congestion and ‘rat run’ traffic in villages like Lower Sundon, Upper Sundon and Streatley. It will make us more attractive to businesses and link to a new rail freight interchange at Sundon. This will help transfer goods to and from the M1 to the Midland Mainline and beyond, shifting more freight from road to rail.

There is also money to improve the notoriously busy Clophill roundabout, easing congestion and improving safety.

Work will soon start on the new Arlesey Relief Road too. This will make a difference locally and support new development.

We’re also pushing for improvements to the A1, but this belongs to Highways England so it’s not ours to change.

Buses are important for Central Bedfordshire. We want to make buses a real alternative to cars.

Working with the bus operators, services will improve in the coming years, with greener, better connected and more reliable services for all. Encouraging people to use buses instead of their cars will reduce traffic on our roads, improve air quality and tackle climate change.

We’re also investing in better cycling and walking routes too.

While the council can make investments and changes, often we have more influence when we link up with others. That’s why I have become the Chair of England’s Economic Heartland. This important transport body puts the needs of businesses, individuals and the environment at the forefront of future investment decisions.

Good transport is critical for Central Bedfordshire. It helps us thrive and brings us closer to important things like our work, family and friends.

Green energy and energy efficiency

The climate change agenda really does affect everyone, and we need to address it now for the benefit of our future generations.

I am very pleased to say that CBC is focussed on using renewable energy sources and becoming more energy efficient.

 We have installed solar panels on sixteen of our buildings including schools, libraries, care centres and the Rushmere Country Park visitor centre. These are generating lots of renewable energy. In fact, the solar panels at our Priory House office are providing approximately one-third of the building’s electricity use.

Using more renewable energy and reducing the amount of electricity we need from the National Grid saves us money and helps our planet. LED streetlights are a good example and the ongoing rollout across Central Bedfordshire has seen energy consumption fall by about 60% compared to the old streetlights – this is a considerable financial saving.

A good way to cut CO2 emissions is to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel vehicles. We already have new electric vehicles in our fleet and more will follow when current lease arrangements come to an end. 

We continue to look at the latest green technology with three renewable energy projects being trialled, all are part of the ADEPT Smart Places Live Labs Programme and focus on solar, kinetic and thermal energy:-

  • Solar panels on the road surface at our highways depot to provide light, heat and energy to power for the site
  • Kinetic floor tiles at Leighton Buzzard railway station generate energy from passengers’ footsteps to power two USB charging benches and a digital information screen
  • Underground geothermal probes use thermal energy to de-ice our Thorn Turn site, reducing the amount of gritting salt needed

More information on these projects can be found on the Central Bedfordshire Council website.