Revised budget proposals show council is listening

Published: Monday, 5th February 2018

Cabinet is being asked to agree proposals to invest more money in helping older people live independently in their own homes, supporting growing numbers of children in care and

helping people with learning disabilities, as part of a refresh of Stoke-on-Trent’s budget strategy.

The proposals, if agreed, will see an overall four per cent increase in council tax in 2018/19, three per cent of which would go directly towards adult social care in the city. This would mean the majority of residents* for 2018/19 will only pay an additional 63p a week increase, equal to £32.51 for the year. On average, Stoke-on-Trent has the lowest council tax in the West Midlands. 
The budget comes at a time when the amount of money the city council receives from government every year continues to reduce and costs continue to increase. In 2018/19, this will see a reduction of £7.4m in funding or 19.6 per cent of the overall council budget, which means a requirement for overall savings of £22m which equates to £87 less per resident to spend on services. In the last seven years, the city council has had to find savings or generate additional income amounting to £172m to bridge this gap. 
The refreshed financial strategy builds on successful initiatives, including increasing business rates and council tax received in the city, which have brought in an additional £5m of income for the council and is expected to deliver a further £6m over the next two years, £2m more than original projections. 
Since November, £10.3m of savings have been consulted on as part of the proposals across the city with residents, businesses, members and community groups all inputting into the final proposals that will be put before full council. The proposals were also scrutinised at a number of overview and scrutiny meetings. As part of this consultation and as a result of working with the community and listening to alternative ways savings could be raised, four areas set out in the original proposals in November will change. These include: 

  • Burslem Gymnastics Centre – given the level of support shown for the centre and as a result of further work with staff and members of the community, including additional membership and new classes and management being reduced, the proposal to relocate the club to Fenton Manor Leisure Complex will not now go ahead. Ongoing monitoring of the long-term financial viability of the centre will continue. 
  • review of funding for homelessness services – it is expected that this saving can still be achieved through the use of additional government funding and by working closely with organisations that provide this service to find alternative sources of funding for support services, rather than in the original way it was proposed prior to the consultation.
  • cease funding of HIV Care and Support Services. Feedback showed concern that if funding stopped this would affect the only organisation in the city providing support services for people with HIV. As an alternative, following discussion with the group who deliver the service, it is proposed that the saving is halved in 2018/19 to ensure a smooth transition to alternative support that is available. This will be funded from the public health grant.  
  • new car park charges at Central Forest Park and Westport Lake. Following concerns raised about levels of congestion in neighbouring areas if charges are introduced, the savings proposal will not be taken forward. 

All other proposals are progressing for agreement unchanged. If agreed by Cabinet on 13 February, the plans will go forward as recommendations to full council for final approval on 22 February 2018.
Council leader Dave Conway said: ‘The environment that local government is operating in is constantly changing and setting a budget in these challenging times is tough. By law we have to set a balanced budget. At the same time our funding is reducing every year and we are experiencing more demand than ever before. 
“This inevitably means that we have to look at everything we do and consider if there are other ways we can deliver services. That is why consultation is so important. We want to listen to what people have to say and we especially appreciated alternative proposals being put forward. 
“Yes, sometimes it means difficult conversations but revising our proposals also shows that we will listen to feedback from our residents and respond to key concerns wherever we can. It is only by working together that we can deliver against the huge financial challenge that we, and others up and down the country, are being faced with. My thanks go to all residents and community groups who have got involved and told us what they think. ” 
Councillor Abi Brown, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance and partnerships, said: “Through the budget setting process there has been broad agreement to the majority of proposals consulted upon and an understanding of the need to increase council tax to fund adult social care in Stoke-on-Trent. 
“We are pleased that our strategy to make the city the best it can be for all the people who live, work, visit and do business in Stoke-on-Trent and our aim to be more commercial is paying off. More businesses are opening and relocating here, and more houses are being built, which has delivered an extra £2m of council tax and business rates over and above our original projections. This means we can better provide the services we know residents value, as well as addressing issues that people tell us are important to them like improving the look and feel of the city and making the best use of our city’s heritage. This approach, underpinned by a £471m capital investment across all 6 towns, is providing certainty and stability. It is also showing the growing confidence in Stoke-on-Trent as a city to invest in with more jobs being created here, more homes being built and more businesses basing themselves here. Stoke really is on the up.”

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