Council’s 2021/22 budget proposals put improving the lives of residents’ front and centre
Wakefield Council's leadership is proposing a budget that will see continued investment in services and facilities to support and improve the lives of residents, their families and local businesses by protecting the most vulnerable, tackling poverty and continuing to support the response and recovery from the pandemic.
Cllr Denise Jeffery, Leader of Wakefield Council and Cllr Jack Hemingway, Deputy Leader have maintained their commitment to invest in the district and its people, as well as developing budget proposals that will support the district as it continues its recovery from COVID-19.
Cllr Jeffery said: "Now more than ever we need to support our residents and our businesses. Despite the significant financial challenges, it is not a time for cuts to services. We have to make the necessary investment so that we can make a real difference and build a better future for everyone.
"Last year has reinforced my belief that we must continue our focus on putting the needs of residents first. By working with partners we will continue to meet the challenges that the pandemic brings and keep pulling together as we emerge and recover.
"We must also look further to our future and continue our commitment to tackle climate change so that generations to come will be able to benefit from what we do now."
In October and November last year, the Council undertook some early engagement with local residents and businesses to provide it with some broader visioning into attitudes and priorities for 2021/2022. The feedback helped developed these budget proposals.
One of the key areas that residents highlighted as important was the district's parks and green spaces. The initial 2021/22 budget proposals includes an additional £500,000 to support the work of the Parks Steering Group so that comprehensive plans can be developed with local communities to improve and drive significant investment in parks and green spaces. Additional provision will also be included in the Council's capital programme to support this important work.
An extra £600,000 of funding will be invested in the Council's STEP-UP employment programme and in-work progression scheme, giving a boost to residents and the district's economy.
To support the district's high streets, proposals have been put forward that would see the 'first two hours' of parking become free of charge in the Council's off street car parks, from April 2021. This will be part of a separate public consultation to be launched in January.
Additional investment – £8.9m is also proposed for frontline services to protect the vulnerable, including £1.5m for support for the homeless and £5.4m in adult social care - where there continues to be a significant increase in demand as well as supporting the highly valued care sector.
"This Council is calling for a long term national solution to the funding of care for older people so that local residents are not having to pick up the extra costs," Cllr Jeffery added.
The Council is also planning to carry on investing in children's services, including £1.5m in children's social care, £0.5m in home to school transport and further growth in Education, Health and Care Plans. In December, Ofsted confirmed that this work is delivering significant improvements and having a positive impact on the lives of children and their families.
A £3m fund would support the Council's continuing response to the pandemic through to March 2022. These funds would be used to carry on helping the health and care system, to support the work of Wakefield Recovery Board so that it can respond to the needs of residents and businesses across the district. This funding would also provide hardship support, support for the food aid network and food banks, and support for voluntary and community organisations.
£300,000 will be invested in the Council's plans to tackle climate change and protect the environment, including in schemes such as energy saving street lighting, working towards the Council's commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030. Following approval last year of the Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP), the Council is now working to deliver the CCAP.
An investment of £2.2m will support the resilience and transformation of the Council's digital and technology infrastructure. The outcome of this will enable service improvements for residents and businesses whilst also delivering efficiency savings to the Council.
To deliver a balanced budget Wakefield Council is tackling a gap of £25.7m in 2021/22. The budget challenge is caused by risings costs, like inflation, and a continued significant demand for services that look after some of the district's most vulnerable younger and older people.
The Council will deliver over £11m of efficiencies, savings and raise additional income to help meet the budget gap, and minimising the impact on the delivery of services. The district's housing growth will help tackle the challenge, generating an extra £3.1m of additional Council Tax.
An extra £3.6m of reserves are also being prudently released to support the district and minimise the impact of the budget gap on residents.
The remaining £5.9m budget gap will be met by a proposed Council Tax increase of 1.99% and an Adult Social Care Precept of 2% is being proposed for 2021/22. This would make the total increase 3.99% - an extra 74p per week for a Band A property.
Cllr Denise Jeffery said: "Raising Council Tax is never an easy proposal. I am fully aware of the hardships many people in the district are facing as a result of the global pandemic and I understand that any increase will be difficult for some.
"We have explored all avenues to close the budget gap and will once again be using our reserves to try and reduce the impact on residents, as well as continuing to drive efficiencies from every corner of the Council. Over the years, I know many of you have understood the need to increase Council Tax and I thank you in advance for your continued support that will enable us to keep delivering services and investing in your communities.
"Through this budget we will continue to pull together to do our very best, to make a real difference to people and building better lives for everyone."
The proposals will be discussed by Cabinet members meeting virtually on Tuesday 12 January at 10.30am. The meeting can be watched live or later on the Council's website.
A public consultation will then be launched on Tuesday 12 January at www.wakefield.gov.uk/budget
Paper copies will be available on request by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The final budget proposals for 2021/22 will be reported to Cabinet on 16 February 2021, with approval reserved to Full Council at their meeting on the 24 February 2021.