Council proposes budget for 2017/18

PR8472
03 February 2017

Wakefield Council is forced to make yet more savings in response to the seventh consecutive year of Government cuts with a significant impact on services affecting local residents.

£144m has already been wiped off Wakefield’s budget and by the end of this decade the Council will have had to make savings of £185m. Wakefield Council’s acceptance of the Government’s Multi-Year Financial Settlement to 2019/20 allows the Council to deliver future years budget savings in a more planned and managed way through to 2020 than the previous annual budget process. However, the cuts still reduce the amount of money available by 30% over this time frame.

As a result, a £15.4m saving will have to be achieved in 2017/18. This is lower than the £24m originally identified, prior to the agreement with the Government. However, a £15.4m saving will still have a major impact on nearly all Council services.

In addition to the savings needed as a result of the cuts in government funding, a further £11.5m will need to be found to deal with demand pressures for children and adults social care services.

Ninety five per cent of all the services Wakefield Council provide are ‘universal’ and around sixty per cent of the entire budget spend is spent on adults and children’s services. This means that in 2017/18 many frontline and essential services will be affected, including support for vulnerable children and adults, leisure provision, public health services and street cleaning and flytipping services.

The Leader of Wakefield Council, Cllr Peter Box CBE, said: “Since 2010 we have made efficiencies of £71m from every single corner of this Council. We are, without doubt, the most efficient, innovative and enterprising we have ever been. We have maintained investment and kept a strong focus on the future to ensure the long-term viability of the district.

“Whilst we are committed to continue with this, we have now reached a point where, with such a significantly reduced budget, our services are under threat - the majority are being reduced and some are stopping all together.”

“Between now and 2020 the Council will undergo a comprehensive reorganisation which will see a review of every pound spent.”

Extensive work and consultation has been carried out to balance the budget, against a backdrop of rising demand for adult social care and children’s services.

The spiralling demand and cost of Adult Social Care services means that savings that had been identified several years ago cannot be achieved. Demand is also increasing on the services provided for children and young people, which is again putting additional pressure on the budget.

Cllr Peter Box said: “If we are to deliver the Adult Social Care services that our vulnerable residents need, we must ensure that more funding is available. An extra £9m will need to be redirected, each year, to make sure these vital services continue.

“But, there will still be significant financial pressures in this area and the only way forward will be to find different ways of delivering the services that remain, if we are to prevent them ceasing altogether. This includes reducing the level of service provided by some of our statutory services, which in most cases protect the most vulnerable people in our communities.

“Our children and young people services will also have to significantly change and reduce to ensure that savings can be made and the current overspend is reduced.”

As in previous years, budget consultation with residents and local businesses has helped to shape Wakefield Council’s budget plans. Over fifty per cent of the people who took part suggested raising Council Tax and adding a precept for Adult Social Care. For the first year, respondents suggested making cuts across all services, and again agreed that the council should generate income by increasing fees and charges. They also suggested further efficiencies be made and how services are organised should be reviewed.

Following this feedback, Wakefield Council is proposing to raise Council Tax by 1.99% to minimise the impact of the cuts and help ensure that the frontline services people rely on the most can continue. A 3% Adult Social Care precept is also proposed after the Government offered no other solution to help deal with the growing national crisis.

The proposed 1.99% rise in Council Tax will add another 31p each week to properties in Band A, and the 3% Social Care precept will cost an extra 46p.

This means a proposed increase for residents in Band A properties of 77p per week.

Cllr Box said: “Adult Social Care is a huge issue for every council in this country. The relentless rise in demand means that we must invest to protect these services, as well as asking for residents support with another precept.

“The Government has made it clear that they have washed their hands of the problem. I maintain my position that the responsibility for proper funding lies with central government, not local residents, and I will continue to lobby for this to happen. But, with such a huge funding gap and our much reduced budget, we have been left with no alternative but to apply a 3% precept on top of the Council Tax – the only solution the Government has offered.”

“The budget consultation showed that over half of those who took part were in favour of using the precept to raise money and this is a credit to the people of this district who clearly understand the need for these vital services and recognise the pressure we are under.

“However, the Government’s reliance on the funds of local residents is not, and cannot be, the solution. With an ever increasing demand for these services the gap is widening at a significant rate of around 5% every year. Whilst the Adult Social Care precept will raise £3.5m, this is only a small proportion on the additional funding required.”

Staffing levels are set to reduce again as 2017/18 will see the loss of over 100 posts. This is on top of 1625 (FTE) posts already removed since 2011 and 700 staff who transferred to the new property and facilities partnership with ENGIE. Whilst we will always try to minimise the impact in the reduction in posts, comprehensive redundancies cannot be avoided.

Wakefield Council’s Chief Executive, Joanne Roney OBE, said: “The last seven years have seen a fundamental change in our workforce and staffing costs. The monthly pay bill has been reduced by over £3.7m and management costs are down by over 30%.

“This drive to reduce staffing costs will continue across the board and at all levels of the organisation. Over 80% of the workforce are frontline staff and as we reduce staffing levels we will have no alternative but to reduce or stop the services they provide.”

Some of the £15.4m savings proposed in the 2017/18 budget report include:

  • £159k by reducing the frequency of street cleaning, ceasing to provide a dedicated team to remove fly-tipping.
  • £650k from the closure of two of the district’s oldest leisure facilities Knottingley Sports Centre and Castleford Swimming Pool
  • £100k following a review of residential parking permits and the introduction of charges to cover the cost of providing the permits.
  • £100k from charging schools and academies for a School Crossing Patrol service
  • £54k by reviewing and reducing the number of children’s play areas and the ongoing maintenance

Cllr Box said: “All elected members fully understand the impact some of these proposals will have on our communities. Reducing services for the vulnerable is not something any elected member would willingly choose to do. But the harsh reality is that we simply have no choice.

“If those responsible for dropping litter and flytipping continue with their actions, the blight they cause on our environment will be far greater than it is now as we can no longer continue to put the same amount of resources into clearing up after them. These problems are completely avoidable and every member of our district has a role to play in protecting the environment.

“As we near the end of a decade of unrelenting budget cuts, and with no confirmation that this will end after 2020, there is no doubt that we are in a very difficult financial position.

“We are making tough choices and it will get even tougher, but the needs and welfare of our residents and this district remains at the very heart of every decision we make.

“Our commitment to supporting our communities will not falter. A capital fund will be devolved once again to every ward for local members and local people to work together to deliver small infrastructure projects that will benefit the community.

“We will continue to deliver the very best value for money for everything we do and will work extremely hard to reduce the unavoidable impact on services wherever we can.”

The budget will be discussed by Cabinet on 14 February at a special Cabinet on Tour meeting held at the Westfield Resource Centre in South Elmsall from 10.30am. Members of the public are invited to attend and take part in a Q&A session after the formal Cabinet meeting. The meeting will also be live streamed from Wakefield Council’s website at www.wakefield.gov.uk/livestream

The 2017/18 Budget will be presented by Councillor Box to the meeting of Full Council on 28 February. The meeting can also be watched on the Council website.

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