WEST Devon Borough Council’s finance team has been praised for “pulling the rabbit out the hat” and producing a balanced budget for 2024/25 which includes an extra £1.1 million to support what is being heralded as a new “dynamic” action plan.

The council’s plan runs until 2028 and prioritises eight themes, including housing, strengthening the local economy, improving health and well-being and protecting the environment.

It will spend £17 million in the first year on goals including the opening of Okehampton Parkway Station and Integrated Transport Hub, which is funded by £13.4 million from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

It will work with housing associations and community land trusts to increase the number of affordable, good quality homes, improve the energy efficiency of 55 homes, install more electric vehicle charging points and improve biodiversity, as well as a developing a protection plan for Tavistock’s historic Duke of Bedford Cottages.

West Devon Borough Councillors approved a 2.99 per cent increase in council tax to “deliver essential services” which means Band D households will pay an extra £7.59 a year, a total of £261.59.

Cllr Chris West (Lib Dem, Burrator) said he was “gobsmacked” that the finance team had managed to balance the budget and find extra funds to help residents.

Through savings and income, including an additional £85,000 funding from the government, the budget gap of £705,000 had been closed.

The council is however predicting a cumulative budget deficit of £1.6 million by 2026/27.

Cllr West said: “I am so pleased that we have found some funding to help us look at other things rather than being bunkered in, trying to make ends meet.”

Cllr Robert Oxborough (Ind, Mary Tavy) added:  “Yet again the finance team have done the job, the amount of work is absolutely immense, I don’t think people understand the amount of detail, scrutiny and due diligence undertaken in putting together a budget.

“I thank Lisa Buckle (Head of Finance, WDBC) and her team for pulling the rabbit out of the hat yet again which she had done every year since I joined the council in 2011.”

Cllr Neil Jory (Con, Milton Ford) said given the difficult times this was “a good, solid budget”.

He said the council had a tradition of being frugal and taking care of its finances.

“In recent years there have been members who voted for a zero council tax increase. If we took that decision a couple of years ago, we would now be looking at a half-a-million pound deficit.”

Councillors were told its £10 million in reserves “remained constant and was at a prudent level” for its size.

Alison Stephenson