THE Forest Council has ruled out any chance of going bust over the next two years but parking charges and council tax bills will be going up to help pay for services.

Finance chiefs at Forest of Dean District Council say they have enough money set aside for any unforeseen difficulties they could face over the next two years.

The authority has recently been given a “clean bill of health” by external auditors but there is concern over the uncertainty surrounding local government finance in coming years.

Cabinet is expected to approve interim budget proposals for the next financial year at their meeting on December 7.

Part of the proposals is to increase council tax by 2.99% which equates £5.96 a year for a band D property.

This would mean the proportion of residents’ tax which pays for Forest of Dean District Council services would rise to £205.80.

The council will also be looking to increase parking charges and other fees. Specific details on how much they could go up are yet to be released.

But currently the council-owned car parks in the Dean have seen a shortfall in £10,000 from parking and £50,000 in income from cemetery fees, according to the latest financial performance report.

Andrew Knott, the council’s section 151 officer, is confident the authority is in a good position financially. But savings need to be made over the next to years, he said.

“We are one of the few councils in the country that had their audited accounts for last year done by the deadline.

“There were only three district councils in the whole country that actually achieved the deadline. Basically we’ve had a clean bill of health.

“In terms of our budget for 2023/24, we are on track. We have no major variances but ultimately it is all balanced.

“We are expecting we will do a 2.99% increase which is the maximum we are allowed to. It will take our element of the council tax up to £205.80 per year for a band D.

“It’s not ideal that we are doing an increase but we need that money to be sustainable with local government finances being unknown into the future.

“I’m assuming, based on conversations with other 151s around the country, that major reforms into council local government funding are likely to take place after the next election.

“We are assuming two years of carry over and then it’s into the unknown.”

Finance cabinet member Andy Moore (G, Newnham) says it is time to look at increasing car parking charges. “Parking charges have stayed the same for the last five years,” he said.

“We are looking at the possibility of an increase not least to make sure that the business of charging for parking washes its face.”

Residents will be consulted on what charges and fees are proposed to be increased in due course.

Mr Knott also said the council is in quite a privileged position in that it has £2m set aside solely for any unforeseen financial difficulties.

He believes this means the council is not at risk of having to issue a section 114 notice. Such notices are issued by councils which have effectively gone bust.

Local authorities technically cannot declare bankruptcy but can issue a section 114 notice.

Such a notice often means an impact on residents with severe cuts to frontline services.

“We’ve been prudent in what we budgeted for last year. From my perspective we are nowhere near that region [of having to declare a section 114 notice],” Mr Knott said.

“We’ve got £2m in reserve we are not looking to touch next year, and I’m assuming we wouldn’t touch it he following year. It’s after that we are in the unknown.

“What we are trying to do is look at savings plans to put us in a good position before we get to that drop off. So that if there is a drop off, which is what councils are expecting, we are in the best position we can be.”