Stroud District Council freezing council tax and increasing investment

First published in News Gazette Series: Photograph of the Author by , senior reporter covering Dursley, Cam, Wotton-under-Edge, Sharpness, Slimbridge, Berkeley, Coaley, Uley, North Nibley, Stinchcombe and Cambridge

THANKS to the recovery of Icelandic bank deposits, Stroud District Council is putting forward £2 million worth of investment plans while freezing council tax for another year.

With the majority of councils cutting spending and making redundancies, Stroud District Council is thought to be in the unique position of being able to offer an expansionary budget.

At a special meeting of the council’s executive held on Thursday, January 3, leader of Stroud District Council Cllr Geoff Wheeler (Lab, Dursley) said their proposals would aim to promote employment, strengthen the local economy and help the vulnerable.

“Due to sound financial management and the recovery of our Icelandic bank deposits we are in a position to be able to invest in our district at a time when we really need to, with no increase in council tax,” he said.

As part of the plans, £1.25million has been put forward for the next two years to support businesses, create jobs and promote growth, £700,000 of which has been put aside as a reserve to explore economic regeneration opportunities.

In addition, £100,000 will be used to attract employers to the district.

To help tackle fuel poverty, housing difficulty and poor health as well as reduce the impact of the recession on the community, the council has put aside £195,000 for the year.

The council will also sideline half a million pounds to reduce the council’s energy costs and improve its carbon footprint, including an installation of small hydro electric power scheme next to the council offices in Stroud.

The hydro electric scheme is expected to save a further £30,000 a year and executive member for the environment Cllr Simon Pickering (Green, Slade) has ensured that it will be built within the next 2 years.

“As the Ebley Mill hydro scheme is technically complex, it will also set a valuable precedent, making it easier for other 5 valleys mill owners to develop hydro schemes in the future,” he said.

“This is a truly sustainable project with a quadruple bottom line: positive benefits for council tenants, more local jobs, income for the council and reduced carbon for the planet.”

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Nigel Cooper (Con, Rodborough) said the extra funds was like a windfall or winning on the lottery.

“I agree that the council finances are in an excellent condition at the moment enabling them to produce a budget like this but surely it is only possible because of the Icelandic bank situation.”

Afterwards, he said: “I think they were extremely fortunate to inherit the council finances in such a robust position. They have got the money back from Iceland and they are free to spend it on whatever they like which is very lucky.

“Sadly, it is being spent on some questionable schemes, particularly the hydro-power scheme at Ebley Mill, which is being pursued for purely political self-interest.”

The spending proposals will now be voted on at a full council meeting on Thursday, January 24, and the year’s council tax will be set on 21 February.

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