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The Chancellor should look again at the nation’s Stamp Duty thresholds, an archaic tax structure which is distorting the housing market, says RICS as part of its 2014 Pre-Budget statement.

The existing ‘slab’ Stamp Duty system taxes a percentage of a home’s purchase price according to which value bracket it happens to fall into. For instance, a buyer purchasing a property for under £250,000 would pay one percent of the price in tax, while a home sold for just one pound more would generate a tax bill of three percent. This means that many buyers are financially unable to venture above the threshold and vendors may have to price their home below what they may otherwise have sold it for. RICS believes that the government should consider a fairer, marginal rate to replace the current structure which sees few homes come onto the market at between £250,00 and £275,000 whether or not they are worth that price.

The government should also consider adapting Help to Buy to suit individual regions’ needs. Sixty percent of RICS members surveyed believe that adjusting the scheme on a regional basis would make the market more sustainable. Furthermore, half of those who are in favour believe that the funding should be limited purely to first time buyers. RICS would like to see the government reassess the scheme with a view to providing the relevant help according to an individual region’s needs.

Garden cities could prove a good means of boosting the supply of homes on the market. However, these cities need to be located in places where people are able and willing to live, close to sources of employment and the houses need to be affordable housing. To make the garden cities a reality the government needs to publish its outline prospectus to test the market by giving potential developers, communities and investors clarity and certainty.

While much progress has been made in recent years regarding empty property rates, unoccupied shops and offices that require refurbishment before being re-let are still subject to prohibitive business rate tax. This situation acts as a huge disincentive for landlords to ensure their premises are brought up to quality and environmental standards. RICS would like the government to consider a rate exemption period for these premises which would also result in more work for smaller, local construction firms, while helping the commercial property sector meet its April 2018 target of making buildings more environmentally sustainable.

Jeremy Blackburn, RICS Head of UK Policy, said:

“This is a very important Budget for the Chancellor and one which will shape the economy in the run-up to the general election. A major area of concern in the property sector, at present, is the current Stamp Duty system which is both out-of-date and distorts the market by taxing buyers disproportionately high amounts should they go just one pound over the pre-set thresholds. A more intelligent, modern way of taxing property sales is needed for a market which is changing at a rate of knots.

“We would also like to see George Osborne provide more detail as to exactly what is meant by new garden cities and precisely how they would benefit communities and the economy. Taxing landlords who renovate their empty shops and offices is also on burden on the economy and discourages owners from taking their premises out of circulation to meet environmental standards.”

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Volunteers are set to play an important role in delivering community support in Medway.

As part of a new scheme, money is to be invested in community organisations and trained volunteers are to provide enhanced support to older people and adults with disabilities.
Medway is one of seven councils in England involved in the programme set up by community interest company, Developing Empowering Resources in Communities, also known as DERiC.

Social investment bank, Big Society Capital, has loaned DERiC £1million to invest in community organisations, set up to support people who receive personal care budgets.
Personal care budgets are given to eligible people by local authorities and the NHS to enable them to have choice and control over the support they receive.

This can include anything from personal care, support with daily living, or needs arising from illness, disability, old age or poverty.

There are now four DERiC schemes in Leeds, one in Sandwell, Birmingham, one in Belfast, and one in Medway.

Together these programmes cover 3,000 people who are eligible to receive support.
The schemes draw in community supporters – local, trained volunteers who will provide appropriate support to people receiving personal budgets, enhancing their care and support arrangements.

The pilots in Leeds and Belfast showed a 25 per cent increase in personal contact for older people and vulnerable adults which is an important element of how we as a society address social isolation and loneliness.

Many councils applied to be part of the scheme and Medway Council will be running the programme in conjunction with Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CGG).

Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Adult Services Cllr David Brake said: “We are delighted to have been selected to be part of DERiC. The organisers particularly liked that we have the CCG as close partners and also recognised the council’s strong links with volunteers.

“The scheme is set to increase the level of care offered to the people of Medway, and for it to be available to them at less cost.”

Dr Peter Green, Chief Clinical Officer for the CCG said: “We are delighted that Medway has been chosen as one of the first areas in the country to make much greater use of volunteers to enhance the care and support for those people who have a personal care budget, and we are looking forward to working with Medway Council to drive this forward.”

The initiative aims to provide support for at least 60 per cent of those eligible for support over the next three years.

In addition to those people, a further 1,500 who are not eligible for statutory support, but who are identified as needing support, will be helped by the scheme.

Residents in Medway will still have the cheapest council tax in Kent after councillors approved a budget for 2014/2015.

Councillors last night voted for a 1.99 per cent increase in council tax to combat an unprecedented cut in funding to the council from the government that will see the authority get just £52million this year – a huge 9.6 per cent less than last year.

Despite this, Medway Council has managed to protect frontline services from cuts in the budget for the forthcoming year. We are also freezing increases on car parking charges until 2017 and will provide £200,000 to improve play areas.

Council tax funds more than 140 services for almost 270,000 residents in Medway. These include important services such as weekly bin and recycling collections, adult social care, educational provision and children’s social services, as well as looking after Medway’s roads and parks.

The increase in this year’s council tax equates to a £22.77 increase per year for an average Band D property – the equivalent of 44p a week.

Medway currently has the seventh lowest council tax of all mainland unitary authorities and is, on average, over £100 below the average combined council tax for Kent County Council and Kent district councils.

Funding in the budget will include:

• £2million for highways improvements
• An extra to £450,000 to fix potholes caused by the adverse weather
• Doubling of free Christmas parking for five years
• £200,000 for improvements to children’s play areas
• £30,000 to fund apprenticeships on the Medway Queen
• £100,000 to fight plans for the Thames Estuary airport – a campaign that has all-party support
• An extension on freeze to car parking increases until 2017

Unlike many other authorities, our 16 libraries and 19 children’s centres will face no threat of closure – as the council is committed to keeping these important local resources open.

In fact, the council has also recently provided new community hub style libraries – which also provide a one-stop facility for information on and booking of other council services – for Gillingham, Rochester and Chatham. Strood and Twydall will see new community hubs open in 2015.

Medway Council has only increased its council tax twice in the past four years, and has done this only to secure a balanced budget.

Cllr Alan Jarrett, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Finance, said: “This has been an extremely tough budget for us against a backdrop of cuts and almost impossible deadlines imposed on us to produce it.

“The small council tax rise is unavoidable if we are to maintain our vital services. “But there are a number of very positive announcements in this budget and we are proud to have avoided cuts to our frontline services.

“While every authority has been hit by Government funding reductions, Medway has been particularly hard hit and we expect that by 2015/16, we will have seen our funding from central government cut by 48 per cent over five years.”

The councils total budget for 2014/15 will be £331 million compared to £348.5 million the year before.

All residents will receive notification in the mail over the next few weeks detailing their council tax and the new charge will start in April.

Frontline services in Medway are to be protected despite cuts to the amount of money the council receives from the Government, under budget proposals.

Medway Council’s provisional 2014/15 draft budget will again ensure all the services our residents receive from us will continue.

These include important services such as weekly bin and recycling collections, adult social care, educational provision and children’s social services, as well as looking after Medway’s roads and parks.

And, unlike many other authorities, our 14 libraries and 19 children’s centres will face no threat of closure – as the council is committed to keeping these important local resources open.

In fact, the council has also recently provided new community hub style libraries – which also provide a one-stop facility for information on and booking of other council services – for Gillingham, Rochester and Chatham, Strood and Twydall will see new community hubs open in 2015.

This determination to protect frontline services sits against a national picture of authorities axing services in a bid to balance the books.

However, the council will reluctantly have to seek a rise in council tax this year of 1.99 per cent in order to protect all the services it provides to nearly 270,000 residents.

This equates to a £22.77 increase per year for an average Band D property – the equivalent of 44p a week.

Council tax is essential in supporting all council services including children’s services, adult social care, parks and refuse collections.

Medway Council has only increased its council tax twice in the past four years, and has done this only to secure a balanced budget.

An unprecedented cut in funding to the council from the government will see the authority get a proposed £52million this year – a huge 17 per cent less than last year. This equates to a total grant of around £3.70 each week for each resident.

Elsewhere, other similar sized authorities have seen much less radical cuts to the government grants and receive a far greater amount than Medway.

In fact, Medway has been hit heavily over a number of years and the council expects that, by 2015/16, it will have seen its funding from central government cut by a total of 48 per cent over five years.

Against that backdrop, the council is still able to protect valuable services for the next year while working to an almost impossible deadline imposed by central government.

In order to make sure the council has enough time to reach a balanced budget by 11 March – which is a legal requirement for all councils – the council is putting forward its budget proposals to Cabinet on 11 February.

This will give officers 24 hours to inject any changes into the proposals so that the papers for the Full Council meeting can go online the next day – a legal requirement unless there are extreme issues of urgency.

Full Council will be on 20 February and this ensures that all issues can be tied up to meet the 11 March deadline.

However, the government has this year delayed the date it will set in stone the grant settlement it will give all councils until 12 February – one day after Medway Council’s Cabinet meeting.

It is also believed the Chancellor may make further changes to the amount of council tax that can be collected by all local councils. If the government makes any changes so late in the budget setting process, this will make it very difficult logistically for councils to set their budget by 11 March deadline.

While every authority is facing tough decisions, Medway Council is committed to doing all it can to protect its services for the next year and beyond.

Cllr Alan Jarrett, Deputy Leader and Portfolio holder for Finance, said: “We have worked very hard to close the gap between what we receive from government and what we spend on our frontline services and we have come very close to doing that.

“It has been extremely difficult to try and balance the books at a time when we are facing such a drastic reduction in our budget.

“We are currently left with a £94,000 deficit which we will be finding ways of closing between now and Full Council.

“We were determined frontline services wouldn’t be hit this year as these impact on every one of us. A modest council tax rise is, we feel, unavoidable if we are to maintain these vital services.”

Details in the budget are subject to change, up until final decisions are made at the Full Council meeting on Thursday, February, 20.

See the draft budget HERE

Now Gravesham CAN with community grants

Community groups and organisations will be able to get money for projects and to improve facilities from a new capital fund called Gravesham CAN (Communities And Neighbourhoods).

The scheme is divided into three categories – grants up to £10,000 for major projects, smaller grants at the discretion of every of ward member of the council for local groups, and a fund to help create networks in the new communities in the borough. More

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