B&NES Council Leader, Kevin Guy, writes in his latest column for The Journal: In my last column of the year, I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to their community in 2023. I am proud of our active and engaged communities, whether that is people volunteering, taking part in a public consultation, or simply being a good neighbour. A big thank you also to Council staff, who work hard to improve people’s lives, and to staff in our partner organisations.

Working with local communities is vital to achieving the Council’s aims. A great example of this is Somer Valley Rediscovered, led by Bath & North East Somerset Council, Wessex Water, Natural England and the University of Bath, which aims to increase biodiversity and connect communities to their landscapes. There are lots of ways you can get involved, such as through volunteering, and you can find out more here.

It has been great to see so many brilliant community events throughout December, including Christmas lights switch on events, carol services and visits from Santa. Local businesses from the South West and beyond also participated in the Bath Christmas Market. As well as supporting our local economy, the Market contributes hugely to our local community. For example, Bath Carnival’s involvement in the Christmas Market has allowed it to engage with hundreds of local people, increasing awareness of its outreach programme and free events. We’ll continue to work hard to support our city and town centres in 2024.

At a recent Council meeting I was extremely pleased to see a unanimous vote on proposals to increase the Council Tax for second homes in Bath and North East Somerset by 100% from April 2025. This follows changes to legislation which enables us to do this for residential dwellings which are occupied periodically, substantially furnished and where no one is resident for Council Tax purposes. Increasing contributions from those who own second homes will help fund vital local services at a time when our budgets are under severe pressure. From April 2024, we are also increasing the Council Tax empty homes premium to 100% for properties empty for between one and five years (this is currently between two and five years).

Like every Council up and down the country, we are facing very difficult decisions in the light of squeezed budgets and rising demand – this despite managing our finances with caution. A ‘perfect storm’ of reduced government funding, high inflation and increases in demand for services, particularly in children’s services means some tough decisions will have to be made. We are currently consulting on the savings and income proposals we need to make to balance the budget, before we make decisions on this in February. Please look out on the Council’s newsroom for the details and have your say - the consultation closes at 5pm on January 15th. It is important to note too that this consultation is about the revenue budget i.e. the ongoing “operational” spend on the Council’s day-to-day services. It does not refer to one-off spending on infrastructure such as transport projects, referred to as capital schemes. These two budgets are treated quite separately and the Council is not allowed to pay for revenue spending from the capital budget.

The Council’s proposed capital programme will be included in the budget papers being presented to Cabinet and Council in February.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year