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'Back our plea to government'

By Herald Express  |  Posted: December 05, 2013

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TORBAY has suffered deeper government cuts than other areas of the public sector, Torbay mayor Gordon Oliver (pictured) has claimed.

He has called on Torbay MP Adrian Sanders for support in getting more help from the coalition government.

In his response to Mr Sanders, the mayor urged the MP to work with the council to improve its finances.

He told Mr Sanders: "The coalition government has imposed huge grant reductions to local government which you have personally supported.

"The reductions go far beyond a real terms cut, but are huge cash cuts when demands for crucial statutory services such as adult social care and children's services continue to increase.

"The cuts which Torbay Council is now facing have nothing to do with how the council has exercised its freedoms."

He said the council had already considered many of the items raised by Mr Sanders and was reassured they had not missed anything.

He told Mr Sanders: "I would ask you support us in raising awareness in Westminster that local government cuts have been greater in Torbay than in other parts of the public sector and work with us to lobby for a fairer deal and access to funding over the next two years."

He said the council had been under government pressure to freeze council tax and Torbay had been among 61 per cent of councils to do so last year.

He said the recession had hit demand for and delivery of new housing. He said: "This is an issue of market failure, not failure by the council or the planning system."

He said the council had received more in New Homes Bonus than Teignbridge or South Hams councils.

Mr Oliver said the 10 per cent government cut in council tax support had left the council with 'few options' as the cut in real terms was 25 per cent because of the Bay's large elderly population who were not affected.

"The council has had very little choice, but to pass on this reduction to the council tax benefit payers (as most local authorities have, including in Devon) or further cuts to services would be required," he said.

He confirmed a third of working age households receiving council tax support are in arrears, but he said households were in arrears under the old scheme and this has increased with the recession.

On empty homes, the mayor said if a property remains empty after two years there is an additional levy increase of 50 per cent. The council employs an empty homes officer.

On business rates the mayor said the council was actively encouraging new business and said Mr Sanders could help lobby for extra government funding for further road improvements. He cited the council's £1milliion growth fund for local businesses.

On the business rate supplements, he said he supported a Bay-wide business improvement district. If a supplement is introduced prospective investors may choose to go elsewhere, he said.

Regarding the supermarket levy the mayor said it had been considered and he would continue to explore such opportunities but few authorities had implemented it.

On the Local Plan delays he said Torbay was the only unitary council to have neighbourhood plans covering the whole authority. They wanted those to be produced in parallel with the Local Plan for which they were also updating the evidence working closely with the government bodies concerned.

Community infrastructure payments had been delayed by the government. The council is considering whether Section 106 agreements were a better mechanism without affecting the viability of schemes and they were working with the developers on this.

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