Thursday, December 7, 2023

Council Budget – Huge Job Losses, Council Tax, and Cuts

The county council has warned of “significant” job cuts after ruling out a top level rise in council tax.

It had asked the public whether they would back an increase of 4.99 per cent; 3.99; or neither of these. The response was roughly split evenly three ways. Now it has said rates will go up by 3.99 per cent, meaning Band D homeowners – commonly seen as the average – paying £50.76 extra. This would bring the average county council element of the council tax to £1,175.89, excluding contributions to the fire and police services, and district and borough councils, with some also paying a parish council precept.

Alongside this, it has reduced the amount of money it is seeking to cut this year by more than £5 million, from a proposed £18.5 million to £13.4 million.

Its proposed budget is £519.5 million. Meanwhile, its five-year savings plan has now reduced from a £70 million target by 2022 to £63 million by 2023. So far just 45 per cent of the ways in which it seeks to make these cuts have been “identified”.

It says an average one month’s delay across all the savings identified for the coming year would require the use of around an additional £1 million from its general reserve – a rainy day fund. This fund is set to fall sharply from £40 million for 2019 to £15 million by 2022 – in order to reach balanced budgets. As a result, the authority says it is “imperative” that cuts are fully identified and planned over the next six-months. This is “to continue to provide a financially sustainable base, on which to provide services over the medium term and not leave the council unable to deal with financial risk”.

It comments that it will be unable to avoid job losses, although the exact number cannot be stated. So far, it has revealed that 462 jobs will be cut in 2019. A report compiled by the authority’s director of finance and ICT, Peter Handford, states: “The actual scale and detailed composition of job losses involved will not become clear until the necessary consultations are concluded and final decisions are made on individual savings proposals. It is, however, evident that given the level of budget savings identified, the scale of workforce realignment will be significant. The council will seek to mitigate the impact of the proposed budget reductions on the council’s workforce through the use of measures such as vacancy control, redeployment, voluntary release, etc. and the further development of an internal jobs market.”

Mr Handford also says that the council continues to face “significant cost pressures in providing essential services such as social care, highways maintenance, public transport and waste”.

He states that children’s services presents a particular pressure on the council’s budget. This is due to a rising number of children in its care or those which it looks after through protection plans, kids with special education needs, and Special Guardianship Orders. His report states that the authority faces a “substantial strain” in children’s services.

The authority overspent by £5.5 million in 2016, by £6.4 million in 2017 and is forecast to overspend by £4.3 million by the end of the current financial year.

A public consultation carried out by the authority found that, of the 3,000 who gave their thoughts on council tax, 31 per cent supported a 3.99 per cent council tax hike, 34 per cent support a 4.99 per cent rise, and 35 per cent supported neither.

Mr Handford wrote: “On balance, considering the pressures associated with the provision of children’s social care but taking the results of the budget consultation into account, it is proposed that council tax be increased by 3.99 per cent in 2019-20, which is one per cent less than the maximum allowed. However, it is vital that additional funding for children’s social care is allocated to local authorities as part of the Local Government Finance Settlements and Fair Funding Review and the council is strongly of the view that any additional funding provided must be on-going, to help local authorities plan their budgets over the medium-term.”

Mr Handford’s report says that the council’s forthcoming and ongoing budget cuts will have an “adverse impact” on older people, the disabled, children, younger people and families. This is despite the consultation finding a majority of people believe these are areas where financial support should be concentrated. It states: “Increasingly, budget savings are resulting in reductions or changes to frontline services, which directly affect the people of Derbyshire. In particular, they are likely to pose a potential adverse impact for some older people, disabled people, children and younger people and families. In part this is because many of the council’s services are targeted at these groups, and these services commend the largest parts of the council’s budget. At the same time, other national and local changes are also likely to continue to affect these groups in particular.”

The council’s budget consultation, filled out by some 6,718 people, identified what the public feel should be the authority’s highest and lowest priorities.

Top priorities, it found, should be caring for vulnerable adults and children, roads and the environment. Supporting vulnerable adults and children was seen as the most important out of these, with the backing of 56 per cent of respondents – while lowest priority, as stated by respondents, should be promoting the county as a tourist destination, championing local communities, libraries and encouraging a healthy lifestyle.

Out of these, the very bottom priority was promoting Derbyshire as a global cultural and tourist destination, voted for by 59 per cent.
The budget proposals will be signed off at a meeting of the Conservative-controlled council’s cabinet on Thursday, January 24.

Eddie Bisknell (LDRS)

Eddie writes for Nailed through the Local Democracy Reporting Service, in partnership with the BBC. The Local Democracy Reporting Service is a partnership of media outlets sharing reporters to cover council meetings.

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