We have now set the budget for the year ahead and I am pleased to confirm that once again we will be freezing Watford Borough Council’s element of council tax.
We’ve held it at the same rate for the past three years, after we lowered it back in 2010/11, which was the first ever cut in the council’s history. The police have agreed to freeze their share of council tax and we will find out about the County Council’s share over the coming few weeks – they take 74% of council tax.
As well as collecting council tax from residents, we also collect business rates from local companies. We collect business rates on behalf of central Government and we don’t get to keep the funds collected – we just hand them straight over to Whitehall where they are redistributed. Last year we collected £65 million in business rates, but only got £5 million back to spend on local services.
There has been rhetoric from government that this is changing – that we will now be able to keep the business rates we receive. In reality however, we will only be to keep business rates on any new businesses that open up in the town – and even then it won’t be the full amount. It’s really an incentive for councils to encourage business growth, rather than a means for us to raise additional money. And of course the devil is in the detail as my finance director tells me we’ll probably end up getting less than we did before!
We do offer rate relief for eligible small businesses, so don’t miss out on any discount you may be entitled to. This relief is now more generous, as it provides eligible small businesses who occupy property with a rateable value of less than £6,000 a 12 month rate holiday.
Jobs do matter to our residents, so even without the latest government incentive, improving the town’s economic prosperity will remain high up on the agenda for the year ahead. We’ll continue to work on bringing new companies to Watford and talking to businesses about what they feel and how we can help them.
The country may still be under an economic cloud and is expected to remain there until at least 2018, but we as a council have the means to invest in our town NOW so can also play a direct role in reviving our economy. Our major projects – like the Town Centre improvements and the Health Campus - are designed to bring about changes that will pay dividends over the longer term by boosting our local jobs market.
It is a good sign when we’ve been able to appoint top private sector partners to work with us on these projects, and when both Morrisons and Waitrose want to open a store in Watford at a time when the retail industry is struggling.
We’re also talking to Network Rail about redeveloping the area around Watford Junction. The outlook is positive for Watford.