Last night Cabinet agreed the draft budget setting out how the Council proposes to spend over £136m of our money in 2018/19. As part of this, we will be recommending to Council a Council Tax increase of 4.99%, which is 1% less than the maximum permitted. This is made up of a 2.99% increase in basic Council Tax and 2% increase in the Adult Social Care precept.
If you look at the budget papers on the Council’s website, you will notice there are no long detailed lists of cuts to individual services areas. That is because this Administration had the courage to take the necessary decisions to ensure our financial sustainability.
Libraries and leisure centres already protected
For example, there are no proposals to close libraries, as other councils might be doing. In fact, because of the work with parish councils, local residents, and library staff, we have one more community library than last year, our core libraries are open for longer and we managed to save over £1m.
There are no proposals to close leisure centres as we transferred these to the not-for-profit organisation GLL. GLL has refurbished some of them and is working closely with users, the heritage community, and the Council to find the best way to protect the historic Health Hydro. Without the transfer, there would have been a further £1.5m burden on the Council.
More council services online through “My Account”
Instead of our traditional approach, we are undertaking a more significant change to how we work and we are have a 20-month programme of which the budget is just the first part. What we are doing is learning from the best examples in the public and private sector to empower you as residents to do more things online through “My account” on the Council’s website.
The advantages will be that you can use this at your convenience, not just in office hours and it will reduce errors as more processes will be automated. However, it does mean that there will be significantly fewer people employed here.
You may ask why, if we are doing all this, does the Council Tax need to rise? The problem is that demand for services is growing because, like most of England, we have more vulnerable elderly people and an ever-increasing number of children we need to take into care. These are what we call demand-led services; we cannot refuse to provide them simply because we have exceeded the budget allocation for the year.
While talking about increases, it is important to make one point clear. The proposed increase is the same as last year – 4.99% – not any other figure that you may have seen suggested.