Creating a council budget, just like a family budget, is a matter of considering conflicting demands, of weighing one imperative against another.
Tonight (Thursday) our councillors will discuss and decide upon the finances for the coming year.
They must consider a storm of competing pressures which affect both our finances and our residents’, such as soaring inflation and an increasing cost of living.
Our services are getting more expensive to deliver just at the time they are most in demand.
We have ambitions as a council too, but just like any family budget, we must live within our means and not be lured into racking up expenses we cannot afford.
That sounds straightforward enough. The difficult bit is deciding which pressure to yield to and which ambition to pursue.
It’s not for nothing that a good budget is said to be balanced.
It is our responsibility and our privilege as a council to provide care for those residents who need it most. That is why our budget this year is focused on welfare and providing support for vulnerable residents.
Welfare is fundamental – people are hurting and they are struggling.
So I am proud that we have put aside £350,000 to go towards welfare projects in the district. To bolster this fund, we have proposed a two per cent increase in council tax. And every penny that raises, around £150,000, will go into the welfare fund.
It’s a lot of money but I hope this is just the start.
Over the years I intend to build this fund so we can do all we need to do in East Hampshire.
Of course, we are sensitive to the fact that increasing council tax creates an extra financial burden on our residents at a time they could well do without it.
However, a two per cent increase equates to less than £3 a year for the average, Band D, home.
Those in the poorest brackets can receive council tax support, while the money raised can be targeted to those who need our help most across the district.
Our council tax is still among the very lowest of any district or borough in Hampshire.
What’s more, this year the government has allowed councils to increase their council tax by three per cent or by £5 a year before a referendum must be called, but we have not gone so far as other councils in the area have.
Once the demands of Hampshire County Council, and other authorities like the fire and rescue service and the police and crime commissioner are factored in, the £142 a Band D household pays to EHDC is a seven per cent sliver of the whole council tax bill.
Nonetheless, we know things are difficult for people, and that’s why we have created the budget we have – to provide help where it is needed.
We have big plans that will show we are listening to residents and demonstrate they are our number one priority.
East Hampshire District Council is in as strong a financial position as I can remember.
And this budget is the rock on which we can build those plans.