A HIKE in planning fees could help bolster Mid Devon’s coffers as decisionmakers attempt to balance its budget.

New government guidelines mean local authorities can now charge an extra 35 per cent for major developments, and up to an extra 25 per cent for other applications from Wednesday, December 6.

Mid Devon’s deputy chief executive Andrew Jarrett told its cabinet this week that the full-year impact could be as much as £200,000 a year.

“This still won’t make the planning division break even in terms of its finances, meaning it will still require some council tax subsidy, but it will reduce the level of subsidy required,” he told councillors.

Mr Jarrett was speaking as the cabinet heard the amount the council was earning had risen, while its borrowing expectations were down.

Local councils are legally required by central government to set balanced budgets, meaning many are having to aggressively manage expenses at a time when government grants have been falling.

Councillor James Buczkowski (Lib Dem, Cullompton St Andrews), cabinet member for finance, said the council had identified £825,000 in savings out of a targeted £1 million.

“Other councils are facing serious financial deficits so our effective underspending is to be praised,” he said.

“Planning and building control income is significantly lower due to the stagnation in the housing market, and recycling sale prices have dropped, which also reduces our income, but we have seen significant increases in waste-related income and membership numbers are increasing in leisure.”

A report for cabinet showed that the leisure division had seen an extra £332,000 in income in the six months to September 30, due in part to rising numbers of users, while an increase in garden waste and trade waste had led to a combined £150,000 in extra income.

Elsewhere, the council is trying to save £400,000 by not filling vacant posts automatically.

However, the council noted that it is struggling with recruitment and retention, particularly in its waste division, which is “requiring a higher usage of agency staff than planned”.

Some divisions have reduced or removed their need for agency staff, though, meaning the council is now spending less than half on agency staff than at this time last year.

Luke Taylor (Lib Dem, Bradninch) the council leader, asked whether the authority attempted to tender for new agencies to ensure it was getting the best deal.

Paul Deal, corporate manager for finance, property and climate change, said it had secured preferential rates from the agencies it uses to ensure it is paying the same amount that salaried employees receive for the work.

He added that it also sought to encourage temporary workers to consider permanent roles, but that few agency workers made the leap because of their preference for flexibility.

Bradley Gerrard