A consultation is underway on budget proposals that will continue investment in crucial services that provide vital support to the most vulnerable children and adults in the city.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has today (Tuesday) published proposals that will potentially see a record £154.4m spent on children’s and adults’ social care in 2022/23, on services that protect and support vulnerable people most in need.
This investment will be supported by an increase in funding from Central Government including an additional Social Care Grant and a new one-off Services Grant, and a proposed 2.99 per cent increase in council tax – 1.99 per cent of which support children in care, and one per cent for adult social care.
The proposals would see the vast majority of residents* pay an additional 55p a week increase in council tax, equal to £28.41p for the year. Council tax in the city remains the eighth lowest compared to 93 metropolitan and unitary authorities in the country, and the city has the fifth lowest average council tax per household.
The budget contains proposals to continue the transformation of services, particularly in light of the changing ways in which residents and communities access services since the impact of the pandemic.
In line with improving outcomes for vulnerable children and young people as the city council’s number one priority, there are proposals to transform how children are supported to have the best start in life and to thrive as they grow. This builds on pioneering work already underway to support early years and early help including the ‘family by family’ and Thrive at Five model, and aims to provide a fuller implementation of the Leadsom review on the best start in life.
The proposals look to transform the council’s existing infrastructure including turning children’s centres into ‘family hubs’ in line with the city council’s recent application to government to be part of wave two awards in this area. The outcome from this is expected in March 2022. This will mean that services would be offered across a wider range of community facilities, with the council proposing to close three of its centres as part of the overall plans.
The budget would also see some proposed changes to the opening hours of libraries, and if agreed, would see the six library sites across the city open for around 200 hours a week, more than the 180 hours currently available. This follows work to modernise libraries in the city so they can remain relevant in today’s society and respond to residents’ ever-changing use of services.
At the heart of all proposals is further digitisation, giving residents more choice and control as to how they receive and access services. Other highlights include investing in strengthening the council’s special education needs capacity supporting children and schools across the city, continuing investment in maintaining Stoke-on-Trent’s green spaces to a high standard, and a continued offer of a free green waste service for much of the year, when many local authorities charge for this.
Within adult social care, as part of the council’s transformation programme, there will be an expansion of support at home and in the community to enable more people to live independently for longer. This builds on the successful pilot in Burslem to develop a strong locality offer of community-led and family-based support with a community lounge for people to access support. This is alongside the launch of a new website that provides improved information and advice about what is available in local communities, including a directory of community services developed in partnership with our voluntary and community sector partners. This will lead to those residents who need extra support, and their carers, having more choice over how they receive care.
The budget proposes a further £56m of capital investment, turning the council’s success in bidding for funds into restored heritage, new business space, high quality residential schemes, improved roads and new schools.
Council leader Abi Brown said: “There is no doubt that as a city, like other local authorities up and down the country, we continue to face extraordinary demands and pressures for services from those who are most vulnerable and in need. Supporting these children and adults is our overriding priority. The pandemic has brought the need for this work into sharp focus, and it has brought with it a much greater sense of togetherness in our city, and understanding to look out for and support each other. We work hand-in-hand with voluntary and community groups with deep connections to their local communities, have invested millions of pounds through our own grants and through swiftly administering government funding so that the most amount of good can be done with every penny spent.
“The pandemic has changed the way people need and use our services like never before. We continue to invest in transforming the way we operate to meet the evolving demands of people in our city. We know that fewer people are using our local centres than before the pandemic, and we’re providing much more targeted and direct support to children and families. But we also know that being able to go into centres will always be important for some of our residents. So we continue to balance this demand with the resources that we have. This is about good financial stewardship – improving services and delivering efficiency to taxpayers in the city.
“We do this through extremely thorough financial planning and continuing to review and improve efficiencies in the way we work. The financial settlement from government this year is good news, and we welcome the extra funding. But it is a short-term settlement, it doesn’t allow us to plan with any certainty for the medium or longer term. And there is much uncertainty around inflation, the rising costs of adult social care and the continuing impact of the coronavirus. More than 60 per cent of our budget each year is now spent on adults’ and children’s social care.
“But I firmly believe that the investment and progress we are making as a city means we are much better placed to control our own destiny than ever before. We are now investing £56m from the government’s Levelling Up fund – the highest allocation to one specific city in the country – on initiatives that will bring investment into our city centre, breathe new life into historic town centre buildings and transform the area around Stoke Station. We’re prioritising our capital to deliver our Levelling Up ambitions.
“We’re investing £29m from the government’s Transforming Cities Fund into overhauling the city’s transport network. We’ve completed our full fibre digital network. We are investing to improve air quality and will plant 18,000 trees to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. We’re investing almost £3m of government funding into services that will give the most tailored support to homeless people with complex needs to give them the very best opportunity to turn their lives around.
“We have invested council money into restoring Tunstall Town Hall and can’t wait to welcome residents and a wide range of services into the building when work is completed next year. We have given developers a huge helping hand in administering funding to remediate industrial land that has been disused for years, and are now seeing the fruits of this work with families moving into new housing developments in Middleport and Burslem. Our own housing company Fortior Homes is continuing to be a market leader in this work, building high quality homes for rent to meet a wide range of housing needs.
“In short, compared to many authorities of a similar size, we are improving our financial resilience, maintaining high quality services and continuing to deliver efficiencies for the Stoke-on-Trent council tax payer.
“We now want to hear people’s views on our proposals. We want to know what people think and to share with us any ideas for alternative proposals. We are working hard to make sure we do the right things for residents and taxpayers, and in previous years input from residents has helped us adjust proposals accordingly.”