Jim Parker: Council tax rise - but we're investing in people

Young woman visiting therapist counselor. Girl feeling depressed, unhappy and hopeless, needs assist

£700,000 to support children and families with complex and challenging needs in their home communities - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Times are tough for everybody at the moment – especially for those actually running the Bay.

The battle against Covid and keeping us all safe is, of course, paramount, but we still need our bins emptied, our streets clean and people generally supported in a variety of ways.

The Lib Dem-Independent regime now in charge at the town hall are very big on people, the community and engagement and you can see that in some of the details of this year’s budget.

First things first – council tax is going up by 4.9 per cent. There is a reason for that.

The Government has announced a continuation of the adult social care precept which enables local authorities to increase council tax by an additional three per cent to support the increasing cost of adult care. The regime insists the additional money will enable Torbay to invest in preventative work to help people stay healthy and well at home.

“We want to continue to support the most vulnerable in our communities who have been affected by cuts in previous years,” they say.

Some of the final proposals for investing in people include: 

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  • £700,000 to support children and families with complex and challenging needs in their home communities 
  • £300,000 for residents facing financial hardship 
  • £150,000 to reinstate subsidies for local bus services 
  • no increase in car park fees for the coming year. 

Council leader Steve Darling said: “A key priority of this administration is to improve our children’s services and it’s heartening to see that we have made great progress in the current financial year. 

“Doing all we can to support vulnerable adults in Torbay is also vitally important.”

Deputy leader Darren Cowell is also in charge of the council purse strings and says: “We have set a budget for one year. We cannot plan properly for three years as we usually do.”

£600,000 has  been identified to put back in the council reserves for the first time in years.

There will be some other visible benefits like £150,00 for tree planting after hundreds of trees had to be chopped down due to disease, £60,000 for sport investment, £50,000 for Paignton seafront lights - the Torquay prom lights will be sorted by the recent Town Deal funding,

A total of £1.6million is being put to one side to help the Bay recover from the impact of the pandemic with £250,000 to support the town centre initiatives and £750,000 to support an events strategy for the next three years.

Another £150,000 is being set aside for the dredging of Brixham’s outer harbour.

Then there are the services that aren’t exactly tangible.

Cllr Cowell says: “The battle has to be turning around the supertanker that has been children's services. This year there it is an under budget.”

That hot potato falls under the remit of Cordelia Law and she is passionate.

Agency staff have been replaced by full time staff. Residential placements for children have been reduced from 46 to 23.

She says: “The invest to save is paying dividends in children's services. We have done a service re-design from top to bottom. The community response for foster families has been great. Our workforce is more stable now.

“We have re-invested in youth work.”

Leader Darling is just as passionate about the people services.

He says: “We have had to sort 'savage cuts' in supporting people budget.”

Cllr Cowell said previous regimes were warned about cutting budgets for services which supported people - there was even a prediction that there could be 'death on the streets.'

He says: "Sadly, that is true. Some people on the streets do not have lifestyle choices. They are the victim of something and need that supporting help.”

From an investment point of view Torbay is in a brilliant place with millions of pounds in public and private investment.

Wickes are the latest big name to be linked to the Bay with plans for a retail warehouse at Edginswell. Regeneration councillor Swithin Long says: “They are submitting a planning application.”

New homes will be rolled out with the new Tor Vista housing company, a new bid for lottery funding at Oldway is being made so a business case can be drawn up to put in an application for more substantive funding and there is even talk of a regeneration project at the Pavilion.

That would indeed cap things off very nicely in these most challenging of times.