England

Local government fees and charges 'likely to rise'

council fees and charge income Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption While some councils have seen their fee and charge income rise, others have lost tens of millions of pounds each year

Councils have warned they may be charging more for services despite some already increasing such revenue by more than 100% in three years.

Government figures show councils raised more than £11bn in fees, charges and sales in 2014/2015.

The overall increase in fees and charges income has been 3% since 2012/2013.

The Local Government Association said councils faced a difficult "balancing act" when setting fees and charges.

The charges cover a variety of services including car parking, adult social care, planning and country parks.

While some have seen their income from such sources increase by tens of millions of pounds, others have seen their fees, charges and sales revenue fall.

Five English councils - Breckland, Devon, Hinckley and Bosworth and South Northamptonshire - have seen their income from fees, sales and charges rise by more than 100% in the past three years, while Derbyshire, Westminster, Bristol and Shropshire, were the biggest risers in real terms, taking tens of millions of pounds more each year.

A spokeswoman for Derbyshire, which increased its fees, charges and sales income by £33m between 2013/2014 and 2015, said: "Like all councils we are looking to increase our income where we can as we need to find savings of £157m between 2013 and 2018.

"There are also many areas where we are charging more for our services than we were.

"These include increasing co-funding contributions for adult social care, charging for home to school transport for pupils who attend faith schools and charging for parking at some of our countryside sites."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Derbyshire County Council, which increased its fees, charges and sales income by £33m between 2013/2014 and 2015 has started charging for home to school transport

Breckland council, which disputes the government figures and claims its revenue from fees and charges has only grown 10% in the past three years, plans to introduce a number of new fees next year.

They include charging businesses for monthly updates of residents' details and environmental health examination results.

Sharon Taylor, deputy chair of the Local Government Association, said: "There is a law of diminishing returns with council charges. If you increase prices it can result in a reduction in the use of services. It has to be a reasonable increase; it is a balancing act.

"Councils of whatever political persuasion are aware that family budgets are tight and they don't want to put costs up.

"At the end of the day, fees and charges have to be balanced against council tax rises."

Cambridge City Council, where fees and charges revenue has risen from £20.5m to £23.1m in the past three financial years, demands any department wanting to hike fees above the rate of inflation has to prove the rise is needed first.

Lewis Herbert, leader at the Labour-led council, said: "We are trying to strike a balance between the costs of running services and not hitting our residents.

"We are not trying to cry wolf and are not in as bad a position as some councils, but it really is touch and go for many of us because we have to see what is in the detail of the government's plans for local government.

"We are more business-like than some councils so may build a cafe at the crematorium or selling flowers or renting out more space in the Guildhall building - so stretching income by selling more rather than increasing charges."

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Councils have worked hard over the past five years to deliver a better deal for local residents, while satisfaction with public services has been maintained.

"Whilst councils need to continue to play their part in cutting the deficit, they will still have almost £200 billion to spend on local services over the lifetime of this parliament - a reduction of just 1.7% in real terms each year.

"To cover their costs, councils are allowed to introduce reasonable charges for a range of discretionary services."

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