Last Thursday evening, the Full Council met and whilst there is a lot more ceremony around these meetings compared with Standing Committee meetings, the business to be transacted often has significant implications, Thursday night’s meeting was no exception. One of the most important items on the agenda was a review of the draft estimates, which will set the budget for 2023/24 Devizes Town Council precept, which we have to pay as residents. As you can appreciate, there are always challenges in setting any budget and this is no exception. The Council has to balance keeping any increase to a minimum, whilst being able to deliver effective services as well as supporting many community activities that provide the rich culture we have here in Devizes. After a great deal of debate, next year’s increase in your town council tax bill is likely to increase in the region by 4.5%, which will result in an annual increase of about £8.50 for a “band D” house. The main pressure on the budget next year will be general inflation. The council has been careful to scale back on projects with some exceptions, such as the Shambles which I will explain later. As I indicated, at this stage any figures can only be provisional as other factors will come into play as we get closer to December, with one of the main ones being a change in the council tax base. Council Tax bases are calculated on the number of properties in any town, using the band “D” range as an average. Since we calculated last year’s precept, there has been a number of houses built in the town, and as a result, this will increase the Council tax base. Whilst we don’t know what the Council tax base will be for 2023/24 yet, what we do know, is if there are a few more houses then we all pay a little less.
At last night’s Full Council meeting the Councillors also received an update on the money that has been received from housing developers, through what is known as the Community Infrastructure Levy or also known as CIL. CIL provides councils with money to upgrade and provide new capital infrastructure for its growing community. As part of that review, it was agreed development of the Assize Court project was not only critical to providing sustained tourism income for the town but will also provide an important new community facility. As such, it has been agreed to use £50,000 of CIL income to support the project. Whilst it is recognises there is still no guarantee that the project will be successful, what is known without local financial support national funders, such as the Lottery Fund, will not support it because there is no demonstration locally that we value the project.
I briefly mentioned earlier that the Council has agreed to press on with developing the Shambles project. Whilst the Council recognises it needs to ensure that as an indoor market allows current market activities to flourish and develop a degree of flexibility to encourage a new generation of market traders, what has to be the principal goal of any work and investment will be to create a much more energy efficient space that is pleasant for visitors, and that is the task that has been set. We are now working toward that ambition, with Councillors asking for an update in the New Year, to understand how this will be achieved.
Away from the Council Chamber, I have recently been in conversations with our Twin Towns of Mayenne in France and Waiblingen in Germany, as we wish to bring our European neighbours to Devizes in 2023. More information on that is to come soon.
Town Clerk, Simon Fisher