Growing the city economy limits budget impact and shows ‘growth strategy is working’

Published: Thursday, 28th February 2019

City council leaders have agreed the authority’s budget for 2019/20.

And they highlighted how a buoyant economy is helping to protect important public services, investment in support of vulnerable people and limiting council tax increases. 

The budget was agreed at a full council meeting of all Stoke-on-Trent City Council members. Councillors at the meeting pointed to the continued increase in businesses locating to and growing in the city, and a rise in house-building as enabling the council to continue to prioritise investment in adults’ and children’s social care and deliver a growth strategy that is transforming the city and raising aspirations.

The budget will mean more money will be invested in social services to help vulnerable people to live their lives well, accounting for more than 60 per cent of the total budget – £131.4m.

Council tax will rise by 2.99 per cent – of which one per cent will be dedicated to adult social care services, with the remainder targeted at children’s social care. This equates to 49p per week*. 

The increase in spend in these important areas comes at a time when the amount of savings the authority has made over the past eight years has risen to £194m – with a 28 per cent cut in spending power between 2010/11 and 2017/18. The budget will see £8m of savings made.

Over the eight-year period the council’s main Government grant has continued to reduce, but last year the authority was named as one of only 15 pilot areas in the country to retain 75 per cent of the business rates it collects. Previously the council had only been able to retain 50 per cent locally, with the Government allocating a revenue support grant based on a number of criteria. 

Council leader Ann James said: “We have taken a planned approach to bring stability, invest wisely and create the right conditions for our city to prosper at a time when all local authorities in the UK are operating under incredibly difficult financial pressures. This is paying off for Stoke-on-Trent. Our growth strategy is delivering and confidence in the city is increasing.

“Our financial plan centres on continuing to provide essential services to residents, supporting the growth of the city’s economy and providing opportunities for local people and businesses to succeed.

“We have offset the impact of the savings we have needed to make due to reductions in government grants by building new houses and attracting more businesses into the city. This has increased our tax base. It means we are moving in the right direction to become more financially self-sustainable. At the same time, our growth strategy is transforming the city, physically regenerating our towns and city centre, demonstrating our ambition and raising aspirations.

“We are also continuing to provide life-changing support for older people, children in care and people with disabilities. This accounts for the largest part of our spending, and demand in these areas continues to rise in line with the rest of the country.”

Through the budget, £3.3m will be invested in youth provision and £2.5m invested in creating a homeless hub, facilities that will support people across the city. A total of £5m is being invested in clearing and transforming the eyesore East/West Precinct in the city centre which is already under way. The authority is also taking a leading role in building new houses across the city, including at its seven housing zones and through having secured £10m of government money to kick-start derelict and disused sites in Burslem. The council is also building city centre apartments and work to create a four-star Hilton Garden Inn hotel in the city centre continues at pace. 

Deputy council leader Abi Brown, cabinet member for finance and partnerships, said: “We are continuing to work hard to deliver for the people of Stoke-on-Trent right across the six towns, to strike the right balance between supporting people to fulfil their potential, supporting the vulnerable to live their lives well and investing in a future that delivers a prosperous city for all. 

“We are committed to finding innovative ways to deliver the services that our residents need, to invest in our city, and create the right conditions to bring jobs and sustained economic growth. Our success in being named by government as a business rates retention pilot area will generate more than £5m to reinvest in public services.

“We are investing right across the city, ensuring residents have access to services they need in locations they can access. Bringing heritage assets back into use, supporting our towns and communities, and striving to make the city a success.” 

“Our ground breaking Community Investment Fund has delivered £3m to local groups, for projects that are making a real difference to residents right across the city. The final wave of this funding, totalling £1.3m, is now being allocated to successful applicants.

“Our plans to invest money for a return are working – more recently we have seen Tunstall Arrow in the Ceramic Valley Enterprise Zone fully let and we have been named as one of the 15 best places in the UK to start a business. It is as a result of this buoyant and growing economy that we are able to offset some of the budget pressures we are facing. It is not easy but this approach is absolutely paying off.”

The 2.99 per cent council tax rise equates to an annual increase of £25.26p – *49p a week – per Band A property – the most popular housing type in the city.

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