The amount Swanage Town Council raises from council tax for 2022/23 is to go up by an inflation-busting 12.4 percent, alongside increases from Dorset Council, the fire service and the police.
The town council says that it reluctantly took the decision to increase the amount it raises from council tax to protect local services and to invest in projects which support the local community and the town’s economy.
Swanage Town Hall
Town council raises an additional £92,960
For 2022/23 the town council agreed to increase its precept – the amount that it can charge residents in council tax – by £92,960 to £840,000.
Because of an increase in the number of homes in Swanage, when the cost is shared out, this equates to a 9.5 percent increase in residents’ bills.
The Swanage Town Council part of the council tax bill makes up less than 10 percent of the overall bill. For a Band D property it will mean a rise of £14.86 per year to £172. This equates to an increase of 29 pence a week.
Dorset Council’s part of the bill takes up the largest portion of a resident’s council tax bill and that is going up by 3 percent. For Band D households this means that the annual cost will rise by £54 to £1,833, an increase of £1.02 a week.
The Band D precept charged by Weymouth, Dorchester and Wareham Town Councils for 2022/23 will be £176, £202 and £221 respectively.
The popular beach huts on Shore Road are a major source of income
Majority of funding is from commercial activity
The majority of Swanage Town Council’s funding comes from its commercial activity and the fees it charges for the use of its facilities like beach huts and car parks.
It also receives grants and money from property developers to improve local facilities called the Community Infrastructure Levy or CIL.
Swanage Town Council has agreed to spend £3 million for the 2022/23 financial year.
The newly refurbished Chadwick Playground on the Rec was paid for by Swanage Town Council
Where does the money go?
This will go towards maintaining parks and open spaces such as The Downs, children’s play areas, the playing fields, allotments, Beach Gardens sports park, Main Beach, cemeteries, public toilets, Peveril Point boat park, car parks, the Information Centre and the market.
The council also makes financial contributions to other organisations, such as Dorset Council, to help fund safety enforcement in Swanage Bay, the Durlston Bus and the Swanage Primary School crossing patrol.
The budget for 2022/23 includes contributions to many other projects, such as:
- Ground stabilisation works and enhancement of Sandpit Field and the Spa Beach Huts: £300,000
- Repairing the Parish Slipway/Stone Quay and stabilising Peveril Point Road: £125,000
- Improvements to the football club facilities at Day’s Park: £90,000
- Environmental projects and support for Sustainable Swanage: £84,000
- Improvements to King George’s Field Skate Park: £25,000
- Improvements to the former St Mark’s School Playing Field in Jubilee Road: £22,500
- Development of a neighbourhood plan: £15,000
Swanage Town Mayor, councillor Avril Harris
“The town council’s priority is to invest for the future”
Councillor Avril Harris, Swanage Town Mayor said:
“Councillors acknowledge that due to the increasing cost of living this is a very difficult time to ask local people to pay more for council services.
“However, the town council is also experiencing inflation and we believe that council facilities have to be maintained to ensure that Swanage remains a vibrant and prosperous town.
“The town council’s priority is to invest for the future, enhancing opportunities for young people’s play and recreation, working towards carbon neutrality and supporting the local economy.”
Philip Eades stood as an independent candidate in the recent Swanage Town Council by-election
“No need or justification for this rise”
Former local publican Philip Eades, who stood as an independent candidate in the 2021 town council elections said:
“Swanage Town councillors voted in January for a 12.4 percent rise in the town’s share of the 2022/23 Dorset Council tax, a figure more than double the official inflation rate and compounding the very real difficulties local residents will face in April 2022 with record energy price rises looming and the current highest ever levels of petrol pump prices and rising food costs
“I contend that there is no need or justification for this rise and there are four areas in which the council could have either saved money or budgeted for increased income in order that, not only could the rise be erased, but the towns’ precept could actually be reduced in 2022/23.”
Broad Road car park has a great view of Swanage Bay
Car parking revenue
Philip Eades says that firstly he would like to see a less conservative estimate of car parking revenue:
“Despite the removal of all covid restrictions this year, the town council is forecasting for 2022/23 a 15 percent reduction in car parking income to £605,000. Bizarrely, in a report that forecasts a substantial income in beach hut rentals of 15 percent, the town council suggests that associated car parking income will actually fall by 15 percent.
“There is no doubt that the trend towards staycations has not reversed as yet and that Swanage can anticipate a bumper level of visitors this summer season.”
He suggests that it is more than likely that car parking income will remain at the 2021/22 level and that would therefore add £103,000 to the council’s budgeted income for 2022/23.
“A prudent approach has been taken”
In the Swanage Town Council report it says in relation to car parking revenue estimates:
“Whereas last year the question was whether or not the council’s income streams would recover, this year it is a question of whether visitor numbers will be sustained and generate an equivalent surplus in 2022/23.
“Initial indications from beach hut bookings provide grounds for optimism. However, given the squeeze in household budgets due to rising inflation and the fact that car parking income is weather dependent, a prudent approach has been taken to estimating income.”
Will visitors flock to Swanage in 2022 like they did in 2021?
Employee costs are one of the biggest areas of expenditure for the council and in the budget it estimates to fill all the positions all of the time.
However Philip Eades says that is unlikely in the current employment climate and by building in a 3 percent vacancy factor into its budget model, it would put at least £35,000 back into the pot.
Relinquish the old council depot
His third suggestion is for the council to stop occupying the old depot in Kings Road West.
While the site is occupied rent free from Dorset Council, the town council is still paying for business rates, utilities and insurance which cost £15,000 per year.
The final suggestion is to scrap the 2019 increase in the allowance given to councillors, reducing it back to a total of £4,300 a year, which would create an annual saving of £4,800.
These four measures, Philip Eades concludes, would not only eliminate the need to raise the precept by 12.4 percent but would enable it to be reduced thus cutting the costs to residents.
This 12.4 percent increase of the Swanage Town Council precept is unprecedented in recent years. In the past, increases have been kept to a minimum with no rise in 2019/20 and a 2 percent rise in 2020/21 and 2021/22.
In 2021/21, a difficult year for economic forecasting due to unknown covid restrictions, the amount of income predicted in the budget turned out to be an underestimate.
According to the Swanage Town Council report it says this was largely a reflection of increased visitor numbers to the town due to the pandemic, resulting in higher than budgeted income from car parking and beach hut hire.
Although for part of the year covid measures restricted travel within the UK, visitor numbers exceeded expectations in 2021
In 2021/22 there was a budget surplus
However, rather than passing on the extra amount raised to residents by way of keeping any increase in the precept to the minimum in 2022/23, the report explains:
“The council is able to transfer £262,890 to earmarked reserves, £200k of which will be allocated to the Spa/Sandpit Field seafront enhancement scheme.”
The Spa/Sandpit Field scheme is the plan to replace the spa beach huts by Sandpit Field, which overlook Shore Road and the seafront. This is partly required to stabilise the cliff but the new, more substantial beach huts will also bring in increased revenue in future years.
The Spa Beach Huts will cost money to redevelop but will bring in extra income once the area is enhanced
How should councillors vote in future?
Of course, the council would says it’s only sensible to be prudent and indeed if the car parking revenue returns to pre-pandemic levels of around £580k annually, the council could be left with a shortfall.
The question that arises is, if there is again a boom in visitor numbers in summer 2022 and the car park revenue is equivalent to that of summer 2021 and again exceeds the estimate, what will councillors choose to do with a future surplus?
Will they put it into the reserves towards a big capital project again or decide to reduce the precept in 2023/24 thus effectively returning this year’s increase to residents?