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Herefordshire Council agrees budget which reflects priorities and freezes council tax for second year

A budget which includes extra cash to pay for services for older people and means council tax levels will remain frozen for the second year has been approved by Herefordshire Council.

At the meeting of council on Friday, February 3, councillors agreed that the authority should take advantage of a one-off £2.16 million government grant offered to councils willing to freeze council tax in 2012/13.

“This is good news for local people,” said Cllr John Jarvis, leader of the council. “We know that many families in the county are struggling to make ends meet and, just like them, we’re having to reduce our spending and work better to continue to provide the quality services people in the county expect from us.”

Council members heard that, by using the government grant wisely, the authority will be able to secure savings year on year.

The agreed budged includes an extra £1.4 million from central government be put into the adult service budget for the next financial year, which will be in addition to £2.2 million from the NHS to support care activity.

However the scale of the challenge arising from the government’s deficit reduction programme means that all parts of the council will make a contribution to meeting the savings requirement.

Members of the council heard that during the last two years Herefordshire Council has made in excess of £20m of savings to stay within the government’s funding requirements and ensured that council tax levels stay at 2009/10 levels for the second consecutive year.

The budget also reflects the role economic regeneration can play in supporting Herefordshire’s economy through a capital programme that includes funding for key infrastructure projects.

This includes the commitment to explore funding options for the £27 million Hereford link road which will help bring 1,400 gross new jobs and around 800 much needed homes to the city.

The link road, which will run from the bottom of Aylestone Hill and across to Edgar Street, is a key element of the major regeneration of the city centre which includes bringing a Debenhams store a multi-screen cinema to the old cattle market site.

In partnership with Sanctuary Group, it will also include the creation of new city centre housing which will include an element of affordable housing.

The overall cost of the scheme will be established in 2012.

“This decision provides funding certainty and also allows us to go out and find alternative funding for the link road - including seeking appropriate contributions from developers.

“The road will provide access to this massively important project which will bring jobs, homes and retail facilities to the city centre.

“It’s key to unlocking economic vitality in Hereford - and we all know that a healthy economy in the city will boost a healthy county economy. This is what the council is committed to,” added Cllr Jarvis.

Although Garrick House multi-storey car park has been repaired and maintained since it was built 27 years ago, £1 million has been earmarked for major improvements, including new lifts and lighting, to ensure it remains fit for purpose in the coming years.

The ambitious Borders Broadband project - a partnership between Herefordshire and Gloucestershire to improve the broadband network in the counties to create opportunities for businesses, households and communities - is also to receive £6 million which will match government money allocated to the county.

A final decision to freeze council tax at the current level will be taken when council meets in early March.